According to a new study published in the May 2015 issue of the journal Stroke, if you live near a major roadway or other pollution source, you may be more at risk of developing dementia. The study, led by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, found that middle-aged and older people who were exposed to high levels of air pollution had smaller brain volumes and were at a higher risk of silent stroke than those who were less exposed.
The study looked at data from more than 900 people who had participated in the Framingham Heart Study. The researchers determined how far the participants lived from major roadways and used satellite imagery to determine their levels of exposure to PM2.5 particles, which are the tiny particles implicated in many of the negative effects of air pollution, including heart attack and stroke.
They found that participants who lived closer to major roadways, and were therefore exposed to more PM2.5, were more likely to experience covert brain infarcts. These are a form of "silent stroke" that often occur without the person noticing them and can lead to more serious strokes later on. The researchers also found that even in patients who didn't suffer from these silent strokes, exposure to air pollution was associated with smaller brain volume, an early sign of dementia.
Elissa Walker, ScD, of Beth Israel's Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit, said in a statement, "This is one of the first studies to look at the relationship between ambient air pollution and brain structure. Our findings suggest that air pollution is associated with insidious effects on structural brain aging, even in dementia- and stroke-free individuals."
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