Women in their 70s and 80s who were exposed to higher levels of air pollution experienced greater declines in memory and more Alzheimer’s-like brain atrophy than their counterparts who breathed cleaner air, according to USC researchers.
The findings of the nationwide study, published Wednesday in the journal Brain, touch on the renewed interest in preventing Alzheimer’s disease by reducing risk as well as hint at a potential disease mechanism. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and there’s currently no cure or treatment.
“This is the first study to really show, in a statistical model, that air pollution was associated with changes in people’s brains and that those changes were then connected with declines in memory performance,” said Andrew Petkus, assistant professor of clinical neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “Our hope is that, by better understanding the underlying brain changes caused by air pollution, researchers will be able to develop interventions to help people with or at risk for cognitive decline.”
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