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Besides well-established risk factors including an unhealthy lifestyle, experts increasingly believe environmental factors may play a role in the development of dementia. In fact, a new study has found a surprising link to transport noise and dementia risk.
In the largest study of its kind, researchers looked at a surprising risk factor for dementia.
Exposure to noise from road traffic and railways has been associated with an increased risk for the brain-declining condition.
Research has consistently linked transport noise to health conditions including heart disease, diabetes and obesity, but studies on transport noise and dementia were scarce and small, and findings inconsistent.
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The study which was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) was conducted over a 10-year period and found that those dwelling in areas with high transport noise face a much higher risk for dementia particularly Alzheimer’s disease compared to those living in quieter areas.
Researchers investigated the association between long-term residential exposure to road traffic and railway noise and the risk of dementia among two million adults aged over 60 and living in Denmark between the period of 2004 to 2017.
After taking account of potentially influential factors related to residents and their neighbourhoods, the study concluded that as many as 1,216 out of 8,475 cases of dementia were attributed to transport noise.
Of those, “the diagnosis in an estimated 963 patients was attributed to road traffic noise, and in 253 patients to railway noise”.
Exposure to noise can lead to short term impairments in cognitive function, particularly with respect to the ability to focus and remember.
Environmental noise pollution particularly noise pollution is related to traffic is a major risk for later onset dementia.
The evidence suggests that factors act as a stressor, and that it is the lifetime burden of all stressors that influences overall dementia risk.
Researchers found a pattern of higher risk with higher noise exposure and wrote: “If these findings are confirmed in future studies, they might have a large effect on the estimation of the burden of disease and healthcare costs attributed to transportation noise.
“In this large nationwide cohort study, we found transportation noise from road traffic and railways to be associated with an increased risk of all-cause dementia and dementia subtypes, especially Alzheimer’s disease.
“Expanding our knowledge of the harmful effects of noise on health is essential for setting priorities and implementing effective policies and public health strategies focused on the prevention and control of diseases, including dementia.”
Interestingly, it was rather how a person perceives this noise rather than the actual noise itself which is the main determining factor for dementia risk.
If a person perceives these noises as bothersome, it can induce a stress response in the body leading to negative health effects.
Therefore, if one can easily tune out the sound, then they are more likely to not experience the ill effects associated with the noise.
The widespread exposure to noise, and limited tools available to help people protect themselves, support the World Health Organisation’s argument that “noise pollution is not only an environmental nuisance but also a threat to public health.”
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