Shocking New Study: Alzheimer’s Found in Children and Linked to Air Pollution

Amy took her daughter, Madison, to visit her grandmother in the memory care unit of the nursing home. Madison’s grandmother’s Alzheimer’s had progressed a lot since they last saw her. Madison was perplexed by the changes in grandma, and why they were happening. Being 8 years old and inquisitive, she asked lots of questions on the ride home. When she asked her mother when her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s began and if children could get Alzheimer’s, the easy answers would have been “ten years ago” and “no.” But, it got Amy to thinking– ten years ago was when the Alzheimer’s was diagnosed, but when did it REALLY begin? Could Alzheimer’s be present in children?

Although children cannot experience the symptoms of Alzheimer’s (thank goodness!), a new study found shocking evidence to suggest that Alzheimer’s can begin in childhood, with babies younger than a year old displaying signs of the disease. The research emphasized that earlier intervention is necessary to prevent the disease and addressing air pollution may play a key role in preventing it. 

What Really Causes Alzheimer’s Disease? 

Although genes do play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, they do not fully determine who will develop it. In fact, only 1% of cases overall are linked directly to specific inheritable genetic mutations that inevitably cause the disease. 

What many people don’t realize is that environmental factors affect Alzheimer’s disease risk in a big way. In fact, research conducted over the past 10 to 15 years has provided pretty convincing evidence that the role of the natural environment — air quality in particular — may be a major contributor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Exposure to high levels of air pollution may wreak havoc on the brain and cognition, and may likely contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease in your brain later in life. 

Alzheimer’s and the Environment 

Some of the most troubling studies connecting air pollution to Alzheimer’s disease have come out of population studies in Mexico City, a city that experiences air pollution levels that far exceed the standards of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

In a recent study, researchers examined the autopsies of 203 residents of Mexico City and published their findings online in Environmental Research. The bodies ranged in age from 11 months to 40 years old. The researchers specifically looked at levels of two abnormal proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Many of the bodies displayed heightened levels of these two proteins in the brain, even in children less than a year old. Evidence of early signs of Alzheimer’s disease was found in 99.5% of the subjects examined. 

Another study in Taiwan with more than 92,000 subjects also found a relationship between how much air pollution levels increased in a particular region and the risk of residents within that region developing dementia. In areas with high air pollution, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease increased more than 200%. 

Lastly, in a review of 18 epidemiological studies from Taiwan, Sweden, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States, conducted at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Durham, North Carolina, all but one study showed an association between high exposure to at least one component of air pollution and a sign of dementia.  

In summary, findings from these studies show that: 

  • There is growing evidence that exposure to high levels of pollution leads to many of the same brain abnormalities that commonly occur in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias;  
  • The negative effects of living in areas with high air pollution have real-life consequences to cognition and dementia development in elderly populations; 
  • The impact of air pollution exposure is severe and fast-acting; and  
  • The underlying pathology may build up for more than a decade before brain function is disrupted enough to be noticeable.  

What can be done 

As researchers uncover more connections between air pollution and Alzheimer’s, it will be important to find out if any practical steps can be taken to help reduce harmful exposure. This is an especially important question for very young children and others who may not have an opportunity to move away from a region with high air pollution.

Currently, there are online tools that track local air pollutant levels. The Washington Post also released a list of the ten most polluted cities in the country (the top 6 are in California!) You can get information about air pollution levels in your area to take precautions that reduce your exposure when air pollution spikes, such as keeping your trips outside short and avoiding exercise outside. Daily lifestyle changes will also help lower air pollution levels in your community, such as carpooling and limiting your use of gas-powered lawn care equipment during the hottest hours of the day. Reducing and avoiding air pollution may be more of a long-term investment for your future and the future of your children than you ever realized.  

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Other Types of Dementia 

Alzheimer’s disease is probably the worst health and social care challenge of our generation, and a diagnosis of the disease is life-changing. When it comes to legal planning for long-term care, generally the earlier someone with dementia plans, the better the result. But it is important to know that it’s never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning. 

Medicaid planning can even be started by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, and even if your loved one is already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care services. 

Medicaid Asset Protection 

Do you have a loved one who is suffering from Alzheimer’s or any other type of dementia? Persons with dementia and their families have unique financial and legal issues. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to easing the financial, legal, and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect your hard-earned assets while maintaining your comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veteran’s Aid and Attendance. As always, please feel free to call us for an initial consultation: 

Fairfax Medicaid Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Medicaid Planning: 202-587-2797 

Print This Page
About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.