More than 90% of the world population is lives in areas with higher than recommended levels of air pollution

Dementia is one of the greatest health challenges of our generation. Photo: WHO

Increased exposure to traffic-related particulate matters may raise the risk of developing dementia, analysts have said.

Particulate matters are microscopic air pollutant made up of solid or liquid matter. Inhaling them can cause significant health issues.

The risk of dementia increased by 3 per cent for every one microgram per cubic meter increase of fine particulate matter exposure, noted the meta-analysis published in Neurology — the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology — October 26, 2022.

Researchers focussed on fine particulate matter, PM2.5, which consists of suspended airborne pollutants of less than 2.5 microns.

“As people continue to live longer, conditions like dementia are becoming more common, so detecting and understanding preventable risk factors is key to reducing the increase of this disease,” said Ehsan Abolhasani, author of the study.

The researchers examined 17 studies for the meta-analysis. Participants had a minimum age of 40. More than 91 million people participated in the studies and 5.5 million, or 6 per cent of them, encountered dementia.

The researchers adjusted several variables that affect a person’s risk of dementia — including age, sex, smoking and education.

They compared the rates of exposure to fine particulate matter air pollutants for people with and without dementia. They discovered that those who did not develop the disease had a lower average daily exposure than those who did.

“By understanding the risk of dementia through exposure to air pollution, people can take steps to reduce their exposure such as using sustainable energy,” said Abolhasani.

The researchers also examined exposure to ozone, nitrogen dioxide and smog-forming nitrogen oxides. But did not discover any noticeably higher risk when these other classes of pollutants were considered alone.

More than 90 per cent of the world population is living in areas with higher than recommended levels of air pollution, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Our results provide more evidence for enforcing regulations for air quality and accelerating the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energies,” Abolhasani added.

Dementia is one of the greatest health challenges of our generation. Some 78 million people will be living with it by the end of this decade, according to the WHO. The global health body had recently launched the first-ever research blueprint for tackling the disease.

“Although dementia is the seventh leading cause of death globally, dementia research accounts for less than 1.5 per cent of total health research output,” said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan in a WHO release.

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