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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: foundation.neura.edu.au/ageing-well-tool-kit

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Own Your Balance

Research investigating the impacts of cognitive behavioural therapy and balance programs on fear of falling, funded by Mindgardens. Falls and fear of falling affect many older people and can impose limitations upon daily activities. Over one third of community dwelling older people fall each year with about 15% of falls being injurious. However, two thirds of older people express a fear of falling during common daily activities, making it more common than falls itself. Fear of falling has been associated with needless restriction in physical and social activities, and subsequent deterioration of health and wellbeing. Previous research has suggested that fear of falling can be reduced through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and balance exercise programs. However, these face-to-face treatments are resource intensive and not readily accessible to people. Furthermore, the effects of these treatments on fear of falling are small and often do not last beyond the duration of the program. By utilising technology and providing tailored physical activity guidance we are aiming to reduce a fear of falling in an accessible, efficient and lasting way. A thee-arm randomised clinical trial will be conducted in 189 community-dwelling older adults with a substantial concern of falling. Participants will be randomly allocated into one of three groups in order to test whether a self-managed CBT intervention, alone or in combination with a graded balance activity program, can reduce concerns about falling in older adults when compared to usual care. We are collaborating with the Black Dog institute to provide a home-based cognitive behavioural therapy program that addresses a fear of falling. We will also be utilising our cutting-edge balance program StandingTall to provide a graded balance program.   Related studies: https://www.neura.edu.au/project/reducing-fear-of-falling-and-activity-avoidance-in-older-adults-with-disproportionate-levels-of-fear-of-falling/ https://www.neura.edu.au/project/standingtall-plus-a-multifactorial-program-to-prevent-falls-in-older-people/ https://www.neura.edu.au/project/standing-tall/