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Study finds living near major traffic linked to higher risk of dementia

People who live close to high-traffic roadways face a higher risk of developing dementia than those who live further away, according to a new study from Public Health Ontario (PHO) and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

The study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, found that people who lived within 50 meters of high-traffic roads had a 7% higher likelihood of developing dementia compared to those who lived more than 300 meters away from busy roads. The increase in the risk of developing dementia went down to 4% if people lived 50-100 meters from major traffic, and to 2% if they lived within 101-200 meters. At more than 200 meters, there was no elevated risk of dementia.

Increasing population growth and continuing urbanisation globally has placed many people close to heavy traffic. With the widespread exposure to traffic and growing population with dementia, even a modest effect from near-road exposure can pose an enormous public health burden. This study suggests that improvements in environmental health policies and land use planning aimed at reducing traffic exposure can have considerable potential for prevention of dementia, which would lead to a broad public health implication. This study adds weight to previous observations suggesting that roadway traffic is an important source of environmental stressors that could give rise to neurological disorders and that future investigation targeting the effects of different aspects of traffic such as traffic-related air pollutants and noise on neurological health is merited.

—Chen et al.

The researchers examined records of more than 6.5 million Ontario residents aged 20-85 to investigate the correlation between living close to major roads and dementia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. They assembled two population-based cohorts including all adults aged 20–50 years (about 4.4 million; multiple sclerosis cohort) and all adults aged 55–85 years (about 2.2 million; dementia or Parkinson’s disease cohort) who resided in Ontario, Canada on 1 April 2001.

Incident diagnoses of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis were ascertained from provincial health administrative databases with validated algorithms. The researchers identified 243,611 cases of dementia, 31,577 cases of Parkinson’s disease, and 9,247 cases of multiple sclerosis in Ontario between 2001 and 2012. In addition, they mapped individuals’ proximity to major roadways using the postal code of their residence. The findings indicate that living close to major roads increased the risk of developing dementia, but not Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, two other major neurological disorders.

Little is known in current research about how to reduce the risk of dementia. Our findings show the closer you live to roads with heavy day-to-day traffic, the greater the risk of developing dementia. With our widespread exposure to traffic and the greater tendency for people to live in cities these days, this has serious public health implications.

—Dr. Hong Chen, lead author

The study is the first in Canada to suggest that pollutants from heavy, day-to-day traffic are linked to dementia, said co-author Dr. Ray Copes, chief of environmental and occupational health at PHO. Previous research that air pollutants can get into the blood stream and lead to inflammation, linked with cardiovascular disease and possibly other conditions such as diabetes. The new study suggests air pollutants that can get into the brain via the blood stream can lead to neurological problems, Copes added.

As urban centers become more densely populated and more congested with vehicles on major roads, Dr. Copes suggests the findings of this paper could be used to help inform municipal land use decisions as well as building design to take into account air pollution factors and the impact on residents.


  • Chen, Hong et al. (2017) “Living near major roads and the incidence of dementia, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis: a population-based cohort study” The Lancet doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)32399-6


Account Deleted

Another good argument for banning sales of small highly polluting diesel cars and also ban the use of small diesel cars in city centers. Also require automakers to pay compensation to owners of small diesel cars for not telling them how dangerous their cars are and for the inconvenience of not being allowed to drive them in large cities. We need to act effectively on air pollution in large cities and it needs to happen immediately.

Dr. Strange Love

You also have a higher chance of getting run over.

Dr. Strange Love

Change. We will have the Polluting Electric Power Plant moved from the Open Countryside where I live right next Door to your City apartment. We will Not produce any more of your disgusting polluting electricity. You will breath your own dirty electricity.

Account Deleted

No just shot it down and install some wind and solar power instead. Problem solved.


@Change How is solar power gonna charge the majority of EVs at night time? Wind is variable and simply not consistent across the globe. Both of these require some means of energy storage which adds to costs which ever never accounted. Then factor in natural weather events damaging wind or solar equipment makes the costs higher in respect to long term return on investment calculations.

As a realistic environmentalist myself.. the most logical approach would be thorium based nuclear power which is 100 year hazardous waste lifespan vs 10,000 year lifespan. Which can even recycle spent uranium / plutonium fuel to mitigate energy input required to sustain thorium nuclear reactions. Existing power plants can utilize thorium yet are burdened by regulatory hurdles and propaganda pushed by zombie environmentalists.


Again: NO WAY! You mean breathing toxic fumes for your entire F'ing life isn't good for you?!? NO WAY!!!! I'd have never guessed that.

Next you're going to tell me that smoking is bad for you too!


You're howling at the moon. Never gonna happen in this country. with any type of nukes. So your "practical" is completely non-sense in the real world.

Battery prices and other storage are coming down and wind & solar complement each other on load a good portion of the time. 20 years from now, they'll be supplying 50% of our grid.

Trevor Carlson

So the study used people's postal codes but somehow were able to map them within 50 meters of major roadways? Isn't long term exposure more significant than how close you happen to live at the time of one study? What about other factors... like people that live in heavily metro areas for their whole lives will have been drinking from the same water sources while suburban dwellers may have grown up on a farm or retire somewhere outside a city on well water. I have a theory for dementia that it's not the air so much as it is the treated water. In the U.S. they add all kinds of chemicals to the water supply for various purposes and if you look at the MSDS on all of them and their known effects on humans. Low doses over long periods of time will often build up and affect the body slightly differently than high concentration exposure - the point is if certain chemicals are never used in the body for any purpose, why would you consume them in any concentration? Our bodies are made to handle CO2, and NOX to a certain extent as long as there's enough oxygen. Our lungs can purge a lot of impurities and regenerate when we breathe clear air.


Brain illnesses are increasing at a similar rate than cancers. Both may very well be related to what we breath, drink and eat.

With 4000+ industrial products contributing, it will not take very long for children to have dementia and die from cancers.

With increasing air-water-food pollution level in China and many large cities, many species will have more problem to reproduce, specially with healthy off springs.

Rising seas (more frequent stronger storms and higher waves) are eroding shores around the Gaspé penisula at a much higher rate. Close to 1000 houses and 400 Km of roads will have to be moved on higher grounds inland.

More and more ways are being introduced to reduce the world population of most living species.

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