Summary: Long-term air pollution exposure was associated with a higher risk of dementia. Ischemic heart disease and heart failure appeared to enhance the link between air pollution and dementia.
Source: Karolinska Institute
People continuously exposed to air pollution are at increased risk of dementia, especially if they also suffer from cardiovascular diseases, according to a study at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in the journal JAMA Neurology. Therefore, patients with cardiovascular diseases who live in polluted environments may require additional support from care providers to prevent dementia, according to the researchers.
The number of people living with dementia is projected to triple in the next 30 years. No curative treatment has been identified and the search for modifiable risk and protective factors remains a public health priority. Recent studies have linked both cardiovascular disease and air pollution to the development of dementia, but findings on the air pollution-link have been scarce and inconsistent.
In this study, the researchers examined the link between long-term exposure to air pollution and dementia and what role cardiovascular diseases play in that association. Almost 3,000 adults with an average age of 74 and living in the Kungsholmen district in central Stockholm were followed for up to 11 years. Of those, 364 people developed dementia. The annual average level of particulate matter 2.5 microns or less in width (PM2.5) are considered low compared to international standards.
“Interestingly, we were able to establish harmful effects on human health at levels below current air pollution standards,” says first author Giulia Grande, researcher at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society at Karolinska Institutet.
“Our findings suggest air pollution does play a role in the development of dementia, and mainly through the intermediate step of cardiovascular disease and especially stroke.”
For the last five years of exposure, the risk of dementia increased by more than 50 percent per interquartile range (IQR) difference in mean PM2.5 levels and by 14 percent per IQR in nitrogen oxide. Earlier exposures seemed less important. Heart failure and ischemic heart disease both enhanced the dementia risk and stroke explained almost 50 percent of air pollution-related dementia cases, according to the researchers.
“Air pollution is an established risk factor for cardiovascular health and because CVD accelerates cognitive decline, we believe exposure to air pollution might negatively affect cognition indirectly,” says Giulia Grande. “In our study, virtually all of the association of air pollution with dementia seemed to be through the presence or the development of CVD, adding more reason to reduce emissions and optimize treatment of concurrent CVD and related risk factors, particularly for people living in the most polluted areas of our cities.
Funding: The study was funded by the Swedish National Study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen, the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, the Swedish Research Council, Karolinska Institutet’s funding for doctoral education and the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare.
About this neuroscience research article
Source: Karolinska Institute Media Contacts: Press Office – Karolinska Institute Image Source: The image is in the public domain.
Importance Emerging yet contrasting evidence associates air pollution with incident dementia, and the potential role of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in this association is unclear.
Objective To investigate the association between long-term exposure to air pollution and dementia and to assess the role of CVD in that association.
Design, Setting, and Participants Data for this cohort study were extracted from the ongoing Swedish National Study on Aging and Care in Kungsholmen (SNAC-K), a longitudinal population-based study with baseline assessments from March 21, 2001, through August 30, 2004. Of the 5111 randomly selected residents in the Kungsholmen district of Stockholm 60 years or older and living at home or in institutions, 521 were not eligible (eg, due to death before the start of the study or no contact information). Among the remaining 4590 individuals, 3363 (73.3%) were assessed. For the current analysis, 2927 participants who did not have dementia at baseline were examined, with follow-up to 2013 (mean [SD] follow-up time, 6.01 [2.56] years). Follow-up was completed February 18, 2013, and data were analyzed from June 26, 2018, through June 20, 2019.
Exposures Two major air pollutants (particulate matter ≤2.5 μm [PM2.5] and nitrogen oxide [NOx]) were assessed yearly from 1990, using dispersion models for outdoor levels at residential addresses.
Main Outcomes and Measures The hazard of dementia was estimated using Cox proportional hazards regression models. The potential of CVD (ie, atrial fibrillation, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, and stroke) to modify and mediate the association between long-term exposure to air pollution and dementia was tested using stratified analyses and generalized structural equation modeling.
Results At baseline, the mean (SD) age of the 2927 participants was 74.1 (10.7) years, and 1845 (63.0%) were female. Three hundred sixty-four participants with incident dementia were identified. The hazard of dementia increased by as much as 50% per interquartile range difference in mean pollutant levels during the previous 5 years at the residential address (hazard ratio [HR] for difference of 0.88 μg/m3 PM2.5, 1.54 [95% CI, 1.33-1.78]; HR for difference of 8.35 μg/m3 NOx, 1.14 [95% CI, 1.01-1.29]). Heart failure (HR for PM2.5, 1.93 [95% CI, 1.54-2.43]; HR for NOx, 1.43 [95% CI, 1.17-1.75]) and ischemic heart disease (HR for PM2.5, 1.67 [95% CI, 1.32-2.12]; HR for NOx, 1.36 [95% CI, 1.07-1.71]) enhanced the dementia risk, whereas stroke appeared to be the most important intermediate condition, explaining 49.4% of air pollution–related dementia cases.
Conclusions and Relevance This study found that long-term exposure to air pollution was associated with a higher risk of dementia. Heart failure and ischemic heart disease appeared to enhance the association between air pollution and dementia, whereas stroke seemed to be an important intermediate condition between the association of air pollution exposure with dementia.