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Researchers link air pollution and memory problems in new study

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2020 | Guardianships & Conservatorships |

That the Trump administration has gutted federal environmental protections – such as by declining to enforce the Clean Air Act – is well known and widely reported in the media. Between 2016 and 2018, fine particulate pollution went up 5.5% – the equivalent of causing 9,700 premature deaths in 2018 alone, according to Rolling Stone, citing a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study.

Fine particulate matter in the air is dangerous to human health

The study’s authors cite as causes not only the administration’s policy changes, but also wildfires and more vehicle driving. Fine particulate matter, called PM2.5, is the “single most important environmental pollutant for ill health and death,” says engineering professor Joshua Apte, author of the study.

In addition to shortening lives, PM2.5 pollution has also been linked to asthma and heart and lung diseases. Now, the Women’s Health Initiative, a large University of Southern California study that looked at almost 1,000 women in their 70s and 80s, has established a correlation between fine particulate matter pollution and increased impairment of memory and learning functions, reports the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.

The study followed the women for 11 years on average, and they did not have Alzheimer’s or other dementias when the study began. Those who breathed dirtier air had worse memory impairment and more brain atrophy associated with Alzheimer’s.

PM2.5 pollution is linked to brain changes

The study concluded that when people breathe PM2.5 particles into their lungs, the particles then circulate in the blood and reach the brain, causing brain tissue changes. But researchers were unable to prove a direct link between the pollution and Alzheimer’s disease.

Family members, guardians and others who care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, as well as people who are elderly but without mental decline, might wish to follow the research on this topic. It may influence the choices people make regarding vulnerable seniors who live in locations with higher amounts of air pollution.