Air pollution has long been associated with lung disease, but research conducted by the National Taiwan University’s (NTU) College of Public Health showed it might also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Between 2007 and 2011, researchers studied 249 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, 125 patients with vascular dementia and 497 people in a healthy control group. The majority of the participants were aged between 74 and 76.
The researchers analyzed statistics on particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10) in the past 14 years and ozone in the past 12 years from the Environmental Protection Administration’s 24 air quality monitoring stations in the Greater Taipei area and Keelung.
“We discovered that elderly people who had been exposed to PM10 at a level of 49.23 micrograms per cubic meter or higher were four times more prone to developing Alzheimer’s than those exposed to lower levels of the particles,” the research paper’s first author Wu Yun-chun (吳昀麇) told a press conference in Taipei yesterday.
Wu said the risk is directly proportional to the PM10 level a person has been exposed to.
Wu said participants who had long-term exposure to ozone at a density higher than 21.56 parts per billion (ppb) also had double the chance of suffering from Alzheimer’s than their low level-exposed counterparts.
As for vascular dementia, elderly people with exposure to high concentrations of PM10 and ozone are 3.6 times and two times more susceptible to developing the disease respectively, Wu said.
National Taiwan University Hospital neurologist Chen Ta-fu (陳達夫) said the link between exposure to PM10 and increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease could be because PM10 carries certain substances that harm the human body.
“After being inhaled via the nasal cavity, these substances could cause the brain to become chronically inflamed and thus raise the risk of developing Alzheimer’s,” Chen said.
NTU Institute of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine associate professor Karen Chen (程蘊菁) said PM10 density is particularly high near busy main roads and the level of ozone normally peaks at about noon.
“Elderly people are advised to stay indoors and keep their windows shut around noon and rush hours,” Chen said.
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