NeuRA Magazine #31


Dr Ruth Peters speaking with BBC World News

A new study by NeuRA has found a clear link between air pollution globally and an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.

Researcher Dr Ruth Peters found that rates of dementia in these regions were more likely when people were exposed to two specific air pollutants. She combined the findings of studies of people living in Canada, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States to create a global snapshot of how pollution is impacting dementia rates.

“This finding is concerning because 91% of the world’s population are exposed to pollution levels that exceed the World Health Organisation guideline limit,” said Dr Peters.

Two pollutants were found to be particularly problematic. The first is particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), which is an airborne mix of solid particles and liquid droplets. Each particle is less than 2.5 micrometres wide (the average human hair is 70 micrometres wide) and can be easily inhaled. The second pollutant is a group of gases known as nitrogen oxides (NOx). These chemical compounds of oxygen and nitrogen are responsible for the smog that clouds cities.

Researchers believe air pollutants may lead to an increased risk of dementia through two methods. Firstly, by increasing levels of inflammation in our bodies, and secondly by raising the risk of having a stroke. The rate of developing dementia is 50 times higher in the year following a major stroke.

“Unlike the majority of established dementia risk factors, it is very difficult for someone to reduce their exposure to air pollution, especially if they live somewhere where pollution levels are high,” Dr Peters said.

“Following this study, we now need extra investigations to better understand how these pollutants affect our brain health over the long term, and what levels of pollution pose the highest risk to us,” Dr Peters said.

“While it might be difficult to reduce our exposure to air pollution if we live in a city, people can still do quite a lot to reduce their risk of developing dementia. The easiest way to do this is to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, getting enough sleep, and being physically active,” Dr Peters said.

The study has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease as part of a special issue by the International Research Network on Dementia Prevention. This network is led by Professor Kaarin Anstey, who is co-author on the study with PhD student Nicole Ee.


For simple and practical steps on how to reduce your risk of dementia, download NeuRA’s free Ageing Well kit:

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Abdominal muscle stimulation to improve bowel function in spinal cord injury

Bowel complications, resulting from impaired bowel function, are common for people living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). As a result, people with a SCI have high rates of bowel related illness, even compared with those with other neurological disorders. This includes high rates of abdominal pain, constipation, faecal incontinence and bloating. These problems lower the quality of life of people with a SCI and place a financial burden on the health system. A treatment that improves bowel function for people with a SCI should reduce illness, improve quality of life and lead to a large cost saving for health care providers. Bowel problems have traditionally been managed with manual and pharmacological interventions, such as digital rectal stimulation, enemas, and suppositories. These solutions are usually only partially effective, highlighting the need for improved interventions. The abdominal muscles are one of the major muscle groups used during defecation. Training the abdominal muscles should improve bowel function by increasing abdominal pressure. During our previous Abdominal FES research with people with a SCI, we observed that Abdominal FES appeared to lead to more consistent and effective bowel motion. However, this evidence remains anecdotal. As such, we are going to undertake a large randomised controlled trial to investigate the effectiveness of Abdominal FES to improve the bowel function of people with a SCI. This study will make use of a novel measurement system (SmartPill, Medtronic) that can be swallowed to measure whole gut and colonic transit time. We will also assess whether Abdominal FES can change constipation-related quality of life and the use of laxatives and manual procedures, as well as the frequency of defecation and the time taken. A positive outcome from this study is likely to lead to the rapid clinical translation of this technology for people living with a SCI.