A recent, large-scale, long-term study in Canada has found that people who lived within 50 metres of a busy road were 7% more likely to develop dementia between the ages of 55 and 85 than people who live at least 300 metres away. Those living within 50 to 100 metres had a 4% increased risk, and those living within 101 metres to 200 metres had a 2% increased risk of developing dementia.
It is thought that the increased exposure to traffic air pollution, which contains high levels of harmful nitrogen oxides, may explain this increased incidence of dementia in those living close to busy roads, although it was recognised within the study that this did not account for all of the risk (which may have been contributed to by those living nearer main roads taking less exercise).
Nevertheless, these results will likely cause a dilemma for elderly people and their loved ones, since living within easy access to facilities such as shops and medical/ community centres must be considered against the risk of developing such an illness. Continued research into the exact cause of these worrying results could also conceivably affect the wording of insurance and medical/ health policies in years to come.
Although there are other established risk factors for dementia, such as smoking, drinking, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet, and whilst further evidence into the effects of traffic air pollution is awaited, we at the LPA Advice Company would recommend that those who do currently live within 300 meters of a busy road take simple precautions to reduce their exposure to pollution. For example, closing windows at night and exercising away from the roads to avoid excessive inhalation. Choosing petrol vehicles over diesel ones could also help reduce the risk to yourself and others, as diesel engines have been widely shown in recent years to emit a significantly higher level of nitrogen dioxide than petrol engines. Diesel fumes have already been recognised by the World Health Organisation (in 2012) as causing an increase in lung cancer.
We at the LPA Advice Company would also counsel the importance of ensuring an early Health LPA is put in place for older loved ones who live, or have spent a significant part of their lives living close to busy roads, so that their wishes can be honoured should they develop early onset dementia as a result. This will also avoid the stress, expense, and delay caused to their family in having to turn to the Court of Protection to ensure their elderly loved one receives the care they deserve.
LPA Advice Company