Air pollution, along with a range of other environmental factors have been included in a new shortlist linked to the risk of getting dementia.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and elsewhere compiled the list after reviewing dozens of studies which investigated the risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
What they found was that a lack of vitamin D, air pollution and exposure to certain types of pesticides were all found to raise the dementia risk. In addition to these, excessive minerals in drinking water were also found to be linked to the disease.
It’s important to note however that these are not proven causes of the condition, instead they’re simply associations and common linkages found during the studies.
Lead scientist Dr Tom Russ, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our ultimate goal is to prevent or delay the onset of dementia. Environmental risk factors are an important new area to consider here, particularly since we might be able to do something about them.
“We found that the evidence is particularly strong for air pollution and vitamin D deficiency. But we really need more research to find out whether these factors are actually causing dementia and how, and if so, what we can do to prevent this.”
About a third of a person’s risk of developing dementia remains unexplained, pointing to the potential involvement of environmental factors.
The findings are published in the journal BMC Geriatrics.
Commenting on the research, Professor Robert Howard, an expert on old age psychiatry at University College London, said: “There is robust evidence that head trauma and poor cardiovascular health increase dementia risk. But most of the environmental factors identified in this review probably represent no realistic increase or only a vanishingly tiny increased risk for dementia.
“If you want to avoid dementia, look after your heart and try to avoid getting knocked unconscious.”
Professor Tom Dening, from the University of Nottingham, said: “What is difficult is to tell whether the environmental exposures are themselves contributing to dementia or whether they are in fact acting as proxies for some underlying variable.”
Dr Tara Spires-Jones, interim director of the Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out: “The key word here is ‘associated’. While this study was thoroughly conducted, an association, or statistical correlation, like this does not imply that any of these factors cause dementia. There could be another factor, related to the two, that is the cause.”