Exposure to air pollution in relation to risk of dementia and related outcomes: An updated systematic review of the epidemiological literature

Jennifer Weuve, Erin E. Bennett, Lynsie Ranker, Kan Z. Gianattasio, Meredith Pedde, Sara D. Adar, Jeff D. Yanosky, Melinda C. Power

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Background: Dementia is a devastating neurologic condition that is common in older adults. We previously reviewed the epidemiological evidence examining the hypothesis that long-term exposure to air pollution affects dementia risk. Since then, the evidence base has expanded rapidly. Objectives: With this update, we collectively review new and previously identified epidemiological studies on air pollution and late-life cognitive health, highlighting new developments and critically discussing the merits of the evidence. Methods: Using a registered protocol (PROSPERO 2020 CRD42020152943), we updated our literature review to capture studies published through 31 December 2020, extracted data, and conducted a bias assessment. Results: We identified 66 papers (49 new) for inclusion in this review. Cognitive level remained the most commonly considered outcome, and particulate matter (PM) remained the most commonly considered air pollutant. Since our prior review, exposure estimation methods in this research have improved, and more papers have looked at cognitive change, neuroimaging, and incident cognitive impairment/dementia, though methodological concerns remain common. Many studies continue to rely on administrative records to ascertain dementia, have high potential for selection bias, and adjust for putative mediating factors in primary models. A subset of 35 studies met strict quality criteria. Although high-quality studies of fine particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter ≤2.5μm (PM2.5) and cognitive decline generally supported an adverse association, other findings related to PM2.5 and findings related to particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter ≤10μm (PM10, NO2, and NOx) were inconclusive, and too few papers reported findings with ozone to comment on the likely direction of association. Notably, only a few findings on dementia were included for consideration on the basis of quality criteria. Discussion: Strong conclusions remain elusive, although the weight of the evidence suggests an adverse association between PM2.5 and cognitive decline. However, we note a continued need to confront methodological challenges in this line of research. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP8716.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number096001
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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