Three More Ways to Reduce Dementia Risk | Air Pollution Part 1

There is good news! There are now more ways to reduce your risk of dementia.

Air pollution, alcohol consumption, and traumatic brain injury have been added to the list of modifiable lifestyle factors–including a healthy diet, quit smoking, adequate sleep, and regular exercise–that can prevent dementia by up to 40 percent (updated from 35 percent). The research was reported at this summer’s virtual Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

In this three-part blog, we focus on each of the factors and learn how we can change our behaviors to decrease cognitive decline. Part 1 focuses on air pollution.

The Global and Local Impact of Air Pollution

Air pollution, defined as a mix of hazardous substances from both human-made and natural sources, takes about seven million lives globally annually. And in the United States, a JAMA Network Open study found that about 200,000 Americans die each year from air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 90 percent of the global population live in areas that contain high levels of pollutants. Particles, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide are the pollutants known to have the biggest health impact.

Particle pollution can be hazardous. And the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that fine particles of 2.5 micrometers (imagine 30 times smaller than a hair strand!) and less in diameter can cause health problems, heart or lung disease, and even death. Sources of fine particles include combustion engines (diesel and gas), power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, and industrial activities (building, mining, smelting).

Polluting Cognition

This past summer and fall, wildfires in the United States ravaged the West Coast. The air quality skyrocketed from good to hazardous (301-500 Air Quality Index) in only a matter of days in California, Oregon, and more recently, Colorado. People–especially the elderly and at-risk–were encouraged to stay indoors.

While many are aware that air pollution causes respiratory problems and even death, not many realize its impact on cognition.

In the same JAMA Network Open study, nine causes of death–one of which was dementia–from air pollution were linked to fine particles even when the levels were below the EPA guidelines. Another research showed that 1.1 percent of all dementia cases are attributed to pollution (and higher in low-income communities) and includes all types of air pollutants.

While 1.1 might not seem like a significant percentage, care should still be taken to minimize air pollution exposure as a preventative measure for dementia (after all, there is no cure or treatment), as well as for one’s overall wellbeing.

What You Can Do

How To Prevent Air Pollution

  • Reuse and recycle materials to decrease production from factories
  • Buy local foods to prevent pollution from transportation outside that don’t need to be trucked across the country and shipped around the world.
  • Walk and bike instead of driving (and, once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, carpool and take public transportation).
  • Avoid burning leaves, trash, and other materials
  • Elect public officials who are advocates for the reduction of pollution.

How To Minimize Exposure from Air Pollution

  • Stay indoors
  • Wear an N95 mask (and with the COVID-19 pandemic, another covering on over it)
  • Reduce outdoor air infiltration to indoors
  • Clean indoor air with air filters, and
  • Limit physical exertion as it causes more air to be inhaled and breathed deeply into the lungs

Click here for more tips on air pollution prevention or minimizing exposure.

Establish a Baseline, Test Your Cognition

Air pollution is just one factor that can be changed to decrease the risk of dementia. It is important to incorporate other lifestyle behaviors to ensure a healthy brain.

Related: What does it mean to have a healthy brain?

In tandem with these changes, remember to test your cognition early–even if you don’t have any symptoms of cognitive decline. By doing so, you’ll establish a baseline and any signs of decline can be addressed to slow its progression.

Take a Savonix assessment easily on any mobile device and remotely whenever and wherever you want. Our tests are accurate and detect mild cognitive impairment 93 percent of the time and assess brain functions such as memory, attention, and focus.

I Want to Test My Cognition


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