Memory loss and brain loss due to air pollution

Memory loss and brain loss due to air pollution

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How polluted air damages our brain

When older women are exposed to increased air pollution, this is associated with a sharp decline in memory and Alzheimer's-like brain atrophy. This is the conclusion reached by an American research team.

A recent study by the University of Southern California found that air pollution in older women contributed to a decrease in memory and a gradual loss of brain tissue. The results of the study were published in the English language journal "Brain".

Older women suffered brain loss due to air pollution

Women who were between 73 and 87 years of age are at greater risk of memory loss and brain loss from increased air pollution compared to women who breathed clean air.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's

The results of the study could influence the prevention of Alzheimer's through risk reduction in the future and indicate a possible disease mechanism. There is currently no effective treatment or cure for Alzheimer's disease.

Air pollution changes people's brains

"This is the first study that really shows in a statistical model that air pollution is related to changes in the brain of people and that these changes are associated with a decrease in memory," said study author Andrew Petkus from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in a press release.

Development of new treatment options in sight

"We hope that by better understanding the underlying brain changes caused by air pollution, researchers will be able to develop interventions that help people with or without cognitive decline," the expert added.

Danger from PM2.5 particles

The smallest particles, which are also referred to as PM2.5 particles, are about 1/30 times as wide as a human hair in diameter. The particles come from traffic fumes, smoke and dust. Their small size enables the particles to remain in the air for a long time. This allows them to get into buildings and be inhaled easily, allowing them to reach and accumulate in the brain.

Effects of exposure to PM2.5 particles

This fine dust pollution is associated with asthma, cardiovascular diseases, lung diseases and premature death. Previous studies have already shown that exposure to fine dust also increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease and the associated dementia.

Data from almost 1,000 women were evaluated

For the current study, the researchers analyzed the data from 998 women aged 73 to 87 who had participated in up to two brain examinations every five years as part of the Women's Health Initiative. The Women's Health Initiative was launched in 1993 by the National Institutes of Health and included more than 160,000 women who raised questions about heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

Artificial intelligence should recognize existing patterns

Women's brain scans were evaluated based on their similarity to the patterns of Alzheimer's disease from a machine learning tool that had previously been trained on brain scans from people with Alzheimer's.

How was the fine dust pollution estimated?

The researchers also analyzed information about where the 998 women lived and environmental data from these locations to estimate their exposure to particulate matter. When all available information was combined and evaluated, the researchers were able to establish a connection between increased pollution, brain changes and memory problems.

More research is needed

The results persisted even after adjusting for differences in income, education, geographic region, smoking and other factors. The current study helps to better understand Alzheimer's as it identified some of the brain changes that link air pollution and memory loss. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Diana Younan, Andrew J Petkus, Keith F Widaman, Xinhui Wang, Ramon Casanova et al .: Particulate matter and episodic memory decline mediated by early neuroanatomic biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease, in Brain (query: November 21, 2019), Brain
  • USC study connects air pollution, memory problems and Alzheimer’s-like brain changes, University of Southern California (query: 21.11.2019), University of Southern California

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