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article imageIs modern living responsible for rise in dementia cases?

By Karen Graham     Aug 16, 2015 in Science
A wide-ranging study of patients in 21 western countries has led researchers to suggest modern living, with its rising levels of pollution and increased use of insecticides, may be behind why people are developing dementia at increasing rates.
An interesting and thought-provoking study by researchers from Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom used World Health Organization (WHO) data from 1989 to 2010 on total neurological deaths (TND) to compare U.S. dementia rates with over twenty western countries.
The researchers found that not only had dementia deaths risen sharply in the U.S., but there were comparable rises, though not quite as dramatic, in the other western countries in the study. The results lead to an interesting conclusion that points to more industrialized nations' rising pollution levels and increased use of potent agricultural insecticides.
The WHO uses two major categories in listing TNDs, Alzheimer and other dementias, and nervous disease deaths. The researchers found that dementia is being diagnosed regularly in people in their 40s, whereas it was typically associated with people older than 60.
It is interesting that the study is comparable to WHO data that overall shows neurological disorders as contributing the most to the global burden of disease in the European Region (11.2 percent) and the Western Pacific Region (10 percent), compared to 2.9 percent in the African region.
More troubling is the disproportionate number of women, particularly in the U.S. showing a five-fold increase in neurological deaths, compared to a three-fold increase in men. The study acknowledges that because of better medical care and breakthroughs in medical technology, people are living longer and possibly developing diseases they would not have lived long enough to have acquired in years past.
However, the study points out, "while this process might partially account for some of the rises, the disproportionate rises in the incidence of dementia deaths over a relatively short time suggest other factors, both in respect to cancer, circulatory disease and neurological morbidity."
This statement is interesting because the researchers say that while the "nature of any environmental factors are uncertain," we also have to take into account the major environmental changes that have taken place over the past decades. The study suggests these major environmental changes can be called "modern living" and include, but are not limited to, "increased population, economic activity, substantial rises in road and air travel; increased home technology involving background electromagnetic fields, which are unique to these later years and these possible environmental factors cannot be ignored, especially as they probably interact."
Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University, lead author in the study said, "These results will not be welcome news as there are many with short-term vested interests that will want to ignore them. It is not that we want to stop the modern world but rather make it safer."
The above study was published in the journal Surgical Neurology International July 23, 2015, under the title: "Neurological deaths of American adults (55–74) and the over 75's by sex compared with 20 Western countries 1989–2010: Cause for concern."
More about Dementia, Environmental factors, Silent epidemic, Aging population, better medical care
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