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Dementia and air pollution: should we flee to the country?

Dementia and air pollution: should we flee to the country?

Could living in a major city increase your risk of dementia? A new study suggests that may be the case.

After studying over two million Ontarians over an 11-year period, researchers found that the closer they lived to a major roadway, the more likely they were to develop dementia. Those who had lived in urban areas for a long time were even more likely to develop the condition than those who had moved more recently.

These findings suggest one culprit in particular: air pollution. Of course, the study didn’t prove that air pollution causes dementia – only that there is some sort of relationship. But this isn’t the first major study to find an association between air pollution and a decline in brain function in middle-aged and older adults.

So does this mean that we should all flock to the country? Not so fast.

The increased risk shown in the study is only slightly higher, and while these results might help us understand a bit more about what causes dementia in certain circumstances, more research needs to be done.

The “brew” of different toxins that make up air pollution make it difficult to attribute the effect to one specific factor, and there are other factors besides air pollution that may come into play.

Yet, air pollution is an area worthy of more study because it has other indirect but very important effects on the brain. Air pollution may contribute to conditions like pulmonary disease, heart disease and stroke, which we know can increase a person’s chances of developing dementia. Cardiovascular disease, in particular, can lead to vascular dementia.

While the findings of this new study are preliminary, they do have important implications for public health. We need to do more to control and reduce air pollution and protect our most vulnerable citizens.

And while we still don’t fully understand the causes of dementia, there are things we can do right now to reduce our risk. More physical activity, eating a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, challenging our brains and staying socially connected are all essential for brain health.

Reduce your risk by boosting your brain health

Reduce your risk by boosting your brain health


It’s never too soon, or too late to make changes that will maintain or improve your brain health, changes that may also help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

  • Train your brain.
    Keeping your body active makes you strong – same thing goes for your brain. Try new things. Challenge your mind with games, puzzles and crosswords. Visit a museum, take a class, play an instrument. Think, connect and engage.

  • Stay in touch.
    Social interaction appears to have a protective effect against dementia. Volunteer, see your family, join a book club, and spend time with positive people.

  • Choose a healthy lifestyle.
    Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity are all risk factors for dementia. Protect your health by eating right, staying active, reducing stress, not smoking and seeing your doctor regularly.

  • Protect your head.
    Concussions and other brain injuries are a risk factor for the later development of dementia. So drive safely. Avoid falls by installing handrails, removing scatter rugs and keeping paths clear of ice and snow. And always wear a helmet when you’re cycling, skiing, skating and snowboarding.

Healthy brains and bodies withstand illness better. So build your brain health and reduce your risk – find out more at

Meet Mahwesh Saleem: the next generation of Alzheimer researchers

Meet Mahwesh Saleem: the next generation of Alzheimer researchers

Brain function has always fascinated me because it’s very complicated. It’s not black and white, and so many things contribute to how you think and how you behave.

That interconnection means mental health ties into your physical health, and vice versa.

Because I’ve always been an analytical person, I like the challenge of figuring out those connections. Especially when the payoff is a better quality of life.

As we all know, Alzheimer’s disease can affect quality of life so dramatically. It’s important to do the research so we can alleviate the burden on those with the disease and on their families. That really is my ultimate goal.

As a PhD student, my focus right now is on blood sampling and neuropsychological testing, but I also have opportunities to go into neuroimaging and genetic testing. I think that will give me a fuller picture of the mechanisms in the brain.

And it’s only in getting the full picture that we can develop interventions that make a difference in people’s lives.

I have to say, I think I’ve found my niche. There is nothing I’d rather be doing.

Read more about Mahwesh Saleem.

Mahwesh Saleem, Alzheimer Society Research Program Mahwesh Saleem pic1