A recently released study by USC finds that improving air quality appears to slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of developing dementia in older women living in the United States. The findings were recently published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” according to a release from USC.
Researchers have found that exposure to air pollution later in life is connected to a higher risk of developing dementia. The effects of improving air quality and its impact on brain health was unknown.
“Our study is important because it is one of the first to show that reducing air pollution over time may benefit the brain health of older women by decreasing their likelihood of developing dementia,” Xinhui Wang, lead author and assistant professor of research neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, said in a statement. “The takeaway message is that reducing air pollution exposure can promote healthier brain aging.”
USC researchers used data from the National Institutes of Health-funded Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study-Epidemiology of Cognitive Health Outcomes and analyzed the link between reductions in air pollution and the development of dementia among 2,239 women aged 74 to 92.
“Our results show that the benefits may be universal in older women, even those already at greater risk for dementia,” said Wang.
The study found improvements in air quality were also associated with benefits to overall cognitive function and memory, suggesting a positive impact on multiple underlying brain regions.
Dementia, which disproportionately affects women, is among the most expensive chronic diseases in the U.S., according to research conducted by the RAND Corporation. It is estimated that the economic cost of dementia is between $159 billion and $215 billion, and is expected to double by 2040.
“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) are immensely costly both to the healthcare system and to the families who struggle to take care of their older members,” Diana Younan, a former senior research associate in the Keck School’s department of Population and Public Health Sciences and the study’s other lead author, said in a statement. “Our research suggests that tightening the air quality standards may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in older women and, in turn, reduce its societal burden.”