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Does Air Pollution Impact Memory & Cognition?

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that air pollution does make people more likely to experience mental health difficulties.

Medical practitioners and researchers have known for decades that air pollution can have a severe impact on the respiratory system and can also lead to cardiovascular diseases. High levels of air pollution account for around 28,000 to 36,000 early deaths in the UK according to Public Health England.

However, few people realize that air pollution can have an equally disastrous impact on the mind and not much is known about the impact of air pollution on the mind. Dr. David Crepaz-Keay, head of applied learning at the Mental Health Foundation says that ‘Air pollution is not something we immediately think of when asked about the factors that increase a person’s risk of having problems with their mental health. However, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that air pollution does make people more likely to experience mental health difficulties,’.

‘We also know that physical and mental health are very closely connected, so it is likely that something known to harm people’s bodies – air pollution – also harms their minds,’

A recent study published in the journal JAMA Open Network found that exposure to air pollution in childhood and adolescence can lead to an increased risk of mental illness in adult life.

This study monitored adolescents for several decades and measured their exposure to nitrogen oxide (NOx), and fine particulate matter(PM2.5) in the home between 10-18 years of age and then assessed their mental health once they reached 18.

Air Pollution and Memory

Air pollution can have a disastrous effect on memory and in some cases can also lead to more severe conditions such as the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are among the leading causes of death in the UK accounting for 12.4% of all deaths registered in 2019. The problem is expected to get much worse in the future with the World Health Organization expecting the deaths caused by these two conditions to rise by up to 40% between 2015 and 2030.

A recent study published by the American Academy of Neurology found that older women living in high pollution areas are more likely to develop dementia. The researchers studied hundreds of women who didn’t have dementia at the beginning of the study and found that for each 3mr/m3 increase in PM2.5 exposure, there was a greater incidence of brain shrinkage, which was equivalent to a 24% increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In another study conducted by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet found that long-term exposure to PM2.5 and nitrogen oxide (NO2) is correlated with a higher risk of dementia, heart disease, and heart failure.

Air Pollution and Cognition

Inflammation caused by air pollution not only impacts our mental health but can also hamper our cognition and decision-making. Researchers at the IZA Institute of Labor Economics found that higher levels of air pollution impact strategic decision-making, especially under time pressure and stress.

According to Steffen Kunn, one of the lead researchers on this study ‘You go to work, going through rush hour with your bike, you inhale all the pollutants, your cognition will be impaired in the next few hours. This is the conclusion from our study,’. 

Diseases Linked to Air Pollution

As per a blog post by Canadian air filtration Company Camfil Canada, 
“Air pollution is a serious threat to public health, but not only because of its impact on the environment in which we live. When you breathe heavily polluted air, you might notice the immediate effects: watering or burning eyes, an itchy nose and throat, coughing and sneezing, maybe even dizziness or migraine symptoms. However, the long-term effects of breathing polluted air, especially if the pollution is not severe which forces you to move away from the source, can lead to the development of severe diseases and even shorten lifespan.” Learn more here


This content is published on behalf of the above source. Please contact them directly for any concern related to the above.

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