A new study from researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) suggests that living near major roads or highways is linked to higher incidences of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS).
Based on data from 678,000 adults between the ages of 45 and 84 who lived in Metro Vancouver from 1994 to 1998 and during a follow-up period from 1999 to 2003, the study – – published this week in Environmental Health – found that living less than 50 metres from a major road – or less than 150 metres from a highway – is associated with a higher risk of developing dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and MS.
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As part of the study, researchers examined individual exposures to road proximity, air pollution, noise, and greenness at each person’s residence using postal code data. During the follow-up period, the researchers identified 13,170 cases of non-Alzheimer’s dementia, 4,201 cases of Parkinson’s disease, 1,277 cases of Alzheimer’s disease, and 658 cases of MS.
This, the researchers said, is “likely due to increased exposure to air pollution.”
On the flip side, the researchers found that living near green spaces, like parks, has protective effects against developing these neurological disorders.
“For the first time, we have confirmed a link between air pollution and traffic proximity with a higher risk of dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and MS at the population level,” says Weiran Yuchi, the study’s lead author and a PhD candidate in the UBC school of population and public health. “The good news is that green spaces appear to have some protective effects in reducing the risk of developing one or more of these disorders.
And while Yuchi said “more research is needed,” the findings “do suggest that urban planning efforts to increase accessibility to green spaces and to reduce motor vehicle traffic would be beneficial for neurological health.”
When the researchers accounted for green space, they found the effect of air pollution on the neurological disorders was mitigated. Researchers said this “protective effect” could be due to several factors.
“For people who are exposed to a higher level of green space, they are more likely to be physically active and may also have more social interactions,” said Michael Brauer, the study’s senior author and professor in the UBC school of population and public health. “There may even be benefits from just the visual aspects of vegetation.”
Brauer added that the findings “underscore the importance for city planners to ensure they incorporate greenery and parks when planning and developing residential neighbourhoods.”
The study was co-authored by Hind Sbihi, Hugh Davies, and Lillian Tamburic in the UBC school of population and public health.
These findings align with a Spring 2019 study, also by the UBC School of Population and Public Health, that found that suburban, car-dependent neighbourhoods lead to unhealthy lifestyles, while dense, walkable, transit-friendly neighbourhoods with plentiful parks encourage residents to be more physically active, among many benefits.