New study links cognitive decline to air pollution

An article published last month in the journal Neurology describes a new study linking exposure to two air pollutants known to be emitted from gas-powered leaf blowers — fine particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide — to cognitive decline. The links between air pollution and lung and heart diseases have been well established, but until recently there has been less attention to the effects of pollution on brain health.

The answer to this seems simple. If air pollution contributes to poor health, by adopting environmental policies to improve air quality, we all benefit.

Steven Karceski, MD

What’s interesting about the new study is that it was conducted in two regions in northern Manhattan, but the data gathered from each region were treated separately. For each individual in the study, the researchers estimated their unique exposure to air pollution. The important point is that air pollution can vary significantly street by street.

While Manhattan on average rates slightly more poorly on the EPA’s air quality index (AQI) compared to Suffolk County, on a daily basis, both Manhattan and Suffolk County usually fall within EPA’s “Good” to “Moderate” levels of concern. Despite this, however, the study found a significant decline, “the equivalent of 1 year of aging,” as a result of living in a slightly more polluted area.

It stands to reason that reducing our exposure to air pollution can reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease, which, in addition to having a genetic component, “has been linked to chronic exposure to environmental substances like secondhand smoke, air pollution, and pesticides.”

To read more about the study, click here: https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000009314.