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pollution problems

Air pollution could increase risk of dementia, study finds

Air pollution may increase the risk of developing dementia, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal. Specifically, inhaling small particles less than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5) in size "might be a risk factor for dementia," the study said.

The report's findings showed a 17-percent increase in dementia risk for every two-microgram increase of PM 2.5 per cubic meter of air, The Washington Post reports. According to a separate study published last month, 90 percent of the world's population is regularly exposed to unhealthy levels of PM 2.5. "Dementia is a massive problem worldwide," commented the new study's lead author, Marc Weisskopf. "If we can reduce exposure to these particles, we can reduce the burden of dementia."

The reasoning as to why particulate matter can lead to dementia is still being studied; however, "it's hypothesized that the very small particles of pollutants enter our bodies and penetrate our circulatory system, which helps fuel the brain," said Rebecca Edelmayer of the Alzheimer's Association. "These data illustrate that there are many factors across the life course that can contribute to our risk of dementia, and this includes the environment." 

Currently, over 57 million people live with dementia, the Post notes. "For most individuals, a diagnosis of dementia is something they dread because ... there isn't much we can do to reverse it," Christina Prather, the clinical director of George Washington University's Institute for Brain Health and Dementia, told the outlet. "Most people do not have the ability to control or influence the quality of the air they breathe in their environment, so this is not a personal risk they can manage themselves." 

"Part of what we are trying to do is bring more prominence to this," Weisskopf said. "Hopefully this risk is more likely to be incorporated in [discussions about dementia] in the future."