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News / Health

Air pollution found linked to Alzheimer’s

By Hunter Boyce, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published: April 16, 2024, 6:00am

ATLANTA — Adults exposed to high levels of air pollution are at an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. That’s the finding of a new Emory University study that is considered the largest of its kind.

Published in “Environmental Health Perspectives,” the study gathered data from 1,113 participants in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Analysis of that data revealed positive biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease among participants exposed to ambient and traffic-related air pollution at their homes. According to Emory University, the study backs up the results of previous smaller efforts that have suggested air pollution contributes to degeneration in the brain.

“Together, our recent studies represent both ends of the spectrum,” Dr. Anke Huels, lead author and an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, said in a press release.

“In our previous study we showed associations between residential exposure to air pollution and Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain in an autopsy cohort and now, we found similar results in a study of living adults who were on average 15 years younger and cognitively healthy,” Huels said. “This is important because it shows that residential air pollution can negatively affect our brain even decades before we actually develop Alzheimer’s disease. This points to a sensitive time period for both exposure and opportunity, because that is time when prevention strategies and interventions are most effective.”

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 5.8 million Americans lived with Alzheimer’s disease in 2020.

As the U.S. population ages, those numbers will grow. By 2060, the CDC projects, the number of cases within the U.S. will nearly triple to 14 million people.

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