Wildfires May Be A Cause Of Dementia Based On New Study

In 2023, wildfires have had a devastating impact in many parts of Canada as well as the U.S. The toll has been very costly in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. A secondary effect has been that smoke from the fires has caused persistent air quality problems in many population centers.

Unfortunately, it now appears these secondary impacts, which one might have thought were largely inconvenience (e.g., refraining from outdoor activities for a time), may instead be extremely serious: a new medical study concludes that people living in areas with persistent exposure to wildfire smoke may have higher risks of eventually developing dementia.

University of Michigan researchers studied data on 30,000 Americans aged 50+ that were collected from 1998 through 2018 for a U.S. government-funded “Health and Retirement Study.” According to the data, none of these individuals had dementia at the start of the study, and each subject had a check-up every two years to track any changes in his or her health condition.

A team led by Bora Zhang, a research fellow in environmental epidemiology at University of Michigan, then overlaid the health data with estimates of the inhalation of particles less than 2.5 micrometers wide, or 20 to 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. These so-called PM2.5 particles can be too tiny to be filtered out by a person’s respiratory system, enter the bloodstream and potentially travel to vital organs, including the brain. Furthermore, PM2.5 particles from wildfires are known to be more neurotoxic than tiny particles emitted from other sources like agriculture, road traffic, industry, and windblown dust.

The Michigan researchers then were able to model and segment each subject’s presumed amount of PM2.5 inhalation by each of the above sources, including smoke from wildfires. Furthermore, the team adjusted the data to account for age, sex and race.

Based on all this, researchers concluded that about 188,000 new cases of dementia in the U.S. each year trace to exposure to PM2.5 particles, and that only wildfire smoke and agricultural emissions were linked to this debilitating disease. Other PM2.5 sources (road traffic, industry and windblown dust) had little impact. Not surprisingly, agriculture sourced PM2.5 particles had the biggest impact in the U.S. Midwest where many farms are located.

More scientific research is required, but a reasonable conclusion is that an individual assumes greater dementia risk in areas where wildfire smoke is a common occurrence and agricultural emissions are a way of life. Scientists estimate that in 2020 more than 7 million Americans were battling dementia.

Information for this story was found via the sources and companies mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

Leave a Reply