Quiet traffic noises significantly increase the risk of dementia – FITBOOK

It doesn’t have to be a balcony directly on the motorway – even seemingly quiet traffic noises put the brain under stress, which, according to a recent Danish study, increases the risk of dementia.

High traffic volumes represent an enormous burden, especially for city dwellers. Not only because of the harmful emissions or the many senseless hours in traffic jams. Those who are exposed to traffic noise almost without a break for years have a higher risk of dementia than isolated villagers, as a Danish study has now found. She also found out which volume is already a danger. The frightening result: Even comparatively low hum from cars and trucks can cause damage.

Traffic noise No. 2 environmental risk factor for public health

Traffic noise is considered to be the second worst environmental risk factor for public health in Europe after air pollution, and around a fifth of the European population is exposed to traffic noise above the recommended level of 55 decibels (dB). For comparison: 55 dB corresponds to a running television or radio in the room. From 60 dB (lawn mower or lively conversation) it can be quite annoying for bystanders. An uninterrupted “radio show” in the form of engine noises and horns, on the other hand, already leaves dramatic traces, warns a group of Danish scientists in their study published in the specialist magazine “bmj”.1

Also interesting: Traffic noise at night damages the heart

Little research has been done into traffic noise and the risk of dementia

Numerous studies have previously shown that traffic noise can trigger diseases such as diabetes, obesity or coronary heart disease, according to the corresponding press release.2 Traffic noise or traffic noise and the risk of dementia have so far been little researched and the results known so far are contradictory. To take this one step further, the team examined the effects of road and train noise on the risk of dementia in two million adults over the age of 60 who lived in Denmark between 2004 and 2017.

Also interesting: The number of people suffering from dementia is increasing rapidly around the world

Traffic-polluted residential addresses compared with dementia cases

First, the scientists determined which residential areas are particularly exposed to car and railway noise. They then analyzed the national health registries to identify cases of all-cause dementia and different types of dementia (Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Parkinson’s-related dementia) over an average of 8.5 years. They identified 103,500 new cases of dementia during the study period.

They also discovered that a constant street noise exposure of 55 dB and higher was enough to increase the risk of dementia (especially Alzheimer’s) by a full 27 percent. With the same loud train noise, the risk was lower – presumably because the noise level is less constant.

Also interesting: The most important recommendations to prevent dementia

How noise crumbles the brain

Even if you get used to the traffic noises at some point and you may consciously no longer hear them, they still penetrate your brain. Noise always releases stress hormones, the researchers emphasize. An increased level of stress hormones leads to sleep disorders, changes in the immune system and inflammation. All of this is known to contribute to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, apparently “bearable” traffic noises should not be underestimated with regard to the risk of dementia.

Also interesting: What happens in the brain when it becomes quiet?

Reducing traffic noise is a top priority

Although this is an observational study, i.e. missing information such as lifestyle habits or previous stresses could not be taken into account in the evaluation, the researchers come to the conclusion that policymakers need new strategies to reduce traffic noise. “The expansion of our knowledge about the harmful effects of noise on health is essential in order to set new priorities,” demand the scientists involved. “We need effective strategies that focus on the prevention and control of diseases, including dementia.” Her final plea is therefore: “Reducing noise should become a public health priority!”


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