Reducing air pollution can lower Alzheimer’s, dementia risk, study finds


DENVER (KDVR) — A new report shows evidence that a reduction in fine particulate matter in air pollution and traffic-related pollution can reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and possibly slow their progression.

Researchers this week released the study at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Denver.

Previous studies have shown a correlation between long-term air pollution exposure and Alzheimer’s. These studies take that one step further.

“What the researchers found was by lowering small particulate matter in air pollution, there was a reduction in incidence of — or the progression of — dementia. So that is certainly significant,” said Jim Herlihy with the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado.

Wildfire smoke haze over Downtown Denver, as seen on July 12, 2021, from Dam Road. (Credit: Viewer-submitted)

“Ironically, this research conference is happening in Denver right now at a time when we are looking at some of the highest air pollution rates, and the risk of small particulate matter from fires and other sources,” Herlihy said. “So we are looking at a higher risk for those people who are exposed to this.”

But Herlihy said the message is a positive one.

“By lowering air pollution, there are benefits to be seen,” Herlihy said.

Reducing pollution risk

The challenge will be how to lower air pollution, because there are multiple sources of it.

“It can be industrial activity. It’s vehicles, emissions from vehicles, and it’s fires,” Herlihy said.

This is something that concerns the Van Why family in Castle Rock.

Sam Van Why has a heart problem, and Donna Van Why is being treated for Alzheimer’s.

“We are still in hopes that Donna will be able to be among the first survivors of Alzheimer’s,” Sam said.

They hope more research will be done.

Herlihy says researchers are learning more every day.

“There’s a lot of things that we can be doing right now in terms of lifestyle — exercise, socialization, diet, lowering blood pressure —that can reduce our risk. This is going to be one more factor I think that we will be looking at,” Herlihy said.

If you or a loved one need help with resources for Alzheimer’s, you can call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.

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