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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ReacStep – novel balance training programs to prevent falls in older adults

The ReacStep study is investigating the short-term effects of two balance training programs (i.e. reactive balance training and conventional balance training) on balance recovery from slips and trips in older adults. These programs are designed from evidence-based research and offer a challenging and unique experience to improving balance. The ReacStep team are calling on volunteers who: are aged 65 and over living independently in the Sydney metropolitan community can walk 500m comfortably with mobility aids or rest have not been advised by a medical practitioner not to exercise have no neurological conditions (e.g. Parkinson’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.) have no history or lower limb, pelvic or vertebral fracture(s) and/or lower limb joint replacement(s) in the past 6 months have no other existing conditions that may prevent them from exercising (e.g. injury, pain, fatigue, etc.) Eligible volunteers will be subjected to a health and safety screening before they are enrolled and randomly allocated into one of the two groups. Both groups will undertake a 3-week training program with an exercise physiologist, at NeuRA (i.e. in Randwick) as well as a balance recovery assessment at the 4-week time point. Reactive balance training involves intentionally stepping on a sliding tile, stepping over obstacles, trigger-release recovery as well as strength training. Participants will be wearing a full-body safety harness to ensure safety. Conventional balance training involves keeping balance in varying foot positions (i.e. feet together, in tandem or on one leg) whilst performing secondary tasks such as throwing a ball, card sorting, solving a maze or playing computer games. For more detailed information, read the Participant Information Statement and watch the video below. To get involved or to register your interest, click HERE. For all other queries, please contact the ReacStep Team on 02 9399 1002 or HC210350