Is There A Connection Between Dementia and Is There A Connection Between Dementia and Dirty Air?Dirty Air?

A silent buildup of tiny magnets in the brain sounds like science fiction, but researchers say it’s reality for adults who live in cities, thanks to air pollution. Now, they’re trying to find out if high levels of magnetite, a particle found in dirty air, can cause Alzheimer’s. They’re concerned because Alzheimer’s patients also have lots of magnetite in their brains. It’s not yet clear if elevated brain magnetite levels are a cause or an effect of dementia, but magnetite is hardly the only air pollutant, and there’s no question that cleaner air is better for your health. Here are some tips for clearing the air for yourself and your parents.

Keep an eye on local air quality

Local industries, pollen, dust storms, and wildfires can create health hazards for seniors, especially those with allergies, asthma, and lung diseases. Most local weather forecasts now include information on daily air quality, including the types and amounts of pollutants such as ozone and dust. You can also visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s real-time national air quality map at AirNow, enter your zip code or your parents’, and see local air quality and tomorrow’s forecast.

When the pollutants and pollen are high, it may be best to stay indoors or at least avoid exercising outdoors. You may be tempted to put on a mask and get on with outdoor activities despite the dirty air, but health experts warn that thick, tight-fitting masks that can filter out pollution particles may also make it harder to breathe.

Clean the air indoors

Of course, staying indoors is only helpful if the air inside your home or senior community is clean, and that’s not always the case. The American Lung Association says air inside homes can be even dirtier than outdoor air. Everything from pet dander and cleaning solutions to radon and lead dust can contaminate indoor air.

To clean indoor air:

  • Run your HVAC fan to filter out dander, pollen, and other irritants
  • Change HVAC filters often or upgrade to a higher quality filter than screens out smaller particles and needs less frequent changes
  • Test your home and your parents’ for radon, lead, high humidity, and asbestos
  • If you or your parents need a new HVAC system, choose one with advanced indoor air quality features that control humidity, screen out tiny particles, and save energy, which can help reduce outdoor air pollution, too.
  • Consider a small portable air purifier to put beside your parents’ chair or bed.
  • Don’t use wood-burning stoves or fireplaces unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • Make sure your parents’ assisted-living community or nursing home is completely smoke-free indoors. If they have in-home health aides, make sure those people don’t smoke in your parents’ home or garage. Smoke particles can travel easily from “smoking” to “nonsmoking” areas.
  • When choosing new furniture, drapes, or flooring – and when you repaint — look for products that don’t out-gas chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs). No-VOC paint costs more than regular paint, but the lack of odor and the cleaner air make it worth the added cost.
  • Use the ALA’s checklist for better indoor air quality.

Finally, if you have concerns about local air quality and your health or your parents’ health, ask your doctor for specific recommendations to help you breathe cleaner air. Learn more about dementia on the blog.


Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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