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Effect of air pollutants on dementia and cognition

Research project Previous studies have shown that air pollution can have a negative effect on cognitive functions. In this project, we study this further by using data from various sources such as the Betula database and the Umeå municipality. By including information about socioeconomics, genetics, noise and the olfactory system (the sense of smell), we study potential mechanisms in the relationship between air pollution, cognitive functions and dementia.

The purpose of this project is to study what can explain the relationship between air pollution and our cognitive functions, such as memory, planning and decision-making ability, and dementia. Our genetic makeup, socioeconomic conditions and exposure to noise can contribute to air pollution causing cognitive impairments and perhaps even dementia in the long run. Since the particles that make up air pollutants can enter the brain through the nose, we also study the sense of smell as a component in the relationship between air pollutants, cognitive functions and dementia.

Head of project

Maria Nordin
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2016-01-01 2022-12-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Psychology, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine

Research area


Project description

Dementia is one of our most feared diseases and a major cause of death. The causes of dementia are not fully explored, and environmental factors are thought to be important. Studies show that there is an approximately 65 percent increase in the risk of dementia if you are exposed to a high degree of air pollution.


The aim of this project is to investigate whether air pollution, noise and socioeconomic status interact with each other or are independent risk factors for dementia and cognitive functions. The aim is further to study whether genetic vulnerability and the sense of smell can play any role in these relationships. This is done through a series of longitudinal studies in a database that combines data from the Betula database, Umeå municipality (air pollution) and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (noise).

Noise and socio-economic status

Air pollution occurs in connection with traffic and traffic causes noise. Noise itself is a stressor that increases the risk of disease in general and we therefore study the role of noise in the relationship between air pollution and dementia. Air pollution and noise are also linked to socio-economic status (SES). Sweden differs from the rest of the world because people with high SES often live in the cities where it is noisy and polluted. Given that socio-economic status has been shown to be protective against dementia, it is therefore interesting to study SES in the relationship between air pollution and dementia.

Genetics and the sense of smell

Carriers of the fourth allele of the gene apolipoprotein E (APO-E) may be more vulnerable to environmental factors. In addition, carriers have a higher risk of dementia. Therefore, we have chosen to study this more at depth. The fact that the particles of air pollutants can enter the brain via the nose, makes the sense of smell an important component in the relationship between air pollutants, cognitive functions and dementia. This is studied both in the above-mentioned database and through cognitive tests in connection with exposure to diesel.

Latest update: 2021-05-24