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Air Pollution, Dementia Risks, and More to Think of Before You Move

Monday, July 31, 2023

The long-awaited retirement is on the horizon, and you yearn to move to a spot best suited for your golden years. You’ve weighed your options, such as housing affordability, availability of healthcare, proximity of loved ones, climate, and crime rate.

But there are more things to know before moving. One of them is air quality in your prospective new place of residence. The harmful effects of air pollution on the lungs and cardiovascular system are well documented. The new scientific research also links long-term exposure to air pollutants with an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia. 

In this blog post, we will explore the correlation between air pollution and dementia risks and other possible health hazards associated with moving later in life. Read on to find out how to prioritize your health and make an informed decision when choosing a location that aligns with your preferences, promotes a healthy lifestyle, and ensures a fulfilling and enjoyable retirement.

A retired couple confronting dementia together

What Is Air Pollution?

The air is polluted when harmful substances are present in the atmosphere. The most common toxic air pollutants are ozone (O3) and fine particles (PM2.5). 

  • Ozone pollution comes from diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles, power plants, and refineries. We usually refer to ozone pollution as smog. 
  • Particle pollution, also called particulate matter, consists of tiny solid and liquid droplets floating in the air. Power plants run on coal or natural gas, cars, wood stoves, fireplaces, and wildfires all emit fine particles. 

Ozone pollution worsens asthma symptoms and causes respiratory diseases. Particle pollution can contribute to respiratory problems, cancer, stroke, heart attack, depression, anxiety, and dementia.

Children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with pre-existing heart and lung disease are particularly vulnerable to air pollution.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for loss of mental prowess. It occurs when nerve cells in the brain stop working, lose connections with other brain cells, and die. The symptoms can be so severe that they interfere with daily life and may include memory loss, loss of language, problems with moving, disorientation, or confusion. 

Typically, the damages caused by dementia are permanent and worsen over time. Some types of treatment can reduce cognitive decline and slow down the worsening of the symptoms.

There are several forms of dementia, with Alzheimer's disease accounting for most cases. Dementia is diagnosed based on the medical history of patients and their families, physical examination, laboratory tests, and the observed changes in behavior.

Risk factors for developing dementia include age, genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Studies indicate that good lifestyle choices (healthy diet, not smoking, regular exercise, and mental stimulation) may decrease the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

How Air Pollution Increases Dementia Risk

A growing body of research suggests that the tiny particulate matter, PM2.5, poses a significant risk to our brain health. Several studies have found that people exposed to this pollutant are at a higher risk of developing Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other dementia-related diseases than people living in areas with cleaner air. 

The research into the relationship between air pollution and cognitive decline is new, and the exact mechanisms are unknown. Researchers have put forward several possibilities. One assumption is that the fine particles in polluted air can enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain, blocking communication between brain cells. PM2.5 also contributes to cardiovascular problems, such as hypertension and stroke, which increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

There is not enough evidence to establish what level of air pollution may cause cognitive decline or dementia. For most people, a diagnosis of dementia is terrifying because there’s not much medicine can do to reverse it. More research is needed to identify risk factors and prevention strategies.

A coal-powered plant polluting the air

How to Reduce the Risk of Air Pollution-Linked Dementia 

The battle for clean air requires collective efforts on a global scale. However, we can take some precautions to reduce our exposure to harmful pollutants and protect our brain health: 

  • Check air pollution in your area at When the air is unhealthy, try to stay indoors and, if necessary, use a portable air purifier.
  • Reduce your contribution to air pollution. Opt for public transportation, cycling, or walking instead of driving your diesel or gasoline-powered car. Don’t burn leaves or trash, and avoid burning wood.  
  • Get involved in your community by supporting initiatives to create and maintain green spaces because they can mitigate the effects of air pollution and improve overall well-being.
  • Engage in local and national efforts that call for stricter air pollution emission standards, utilization of renewable energy, and sustainable urban planning.

Places With the Best and Worst Air in the USA

Air quality can impact your health and overall quality of life. When deciding where to live after retiring, look into the air pollution levels of different regions you're considering, paying attention to factors such as particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone levels, proximity to industrial areas, or traffic congestion. 

Choosing an area with good air quality can contribute to better health outcomes and a more enjoyable retirement experience.

The American Lung Association reports annually on the two most widespread types of pollution: ozone and particle pollution. The particle pollution is measured year-round and short-term. The short-term measurements note daily spikes, often caused by wildfires.  

According to their State of the Air report published in April 2023, many cities in the USA enjoy air that is considered clean. Seven areas rank high on all three of their cleanest cities lists. They are Asheville-Marion-Brevard (NC), Bangor (ME), Greenville-Kinston-Washington (NC), Lincoln-Beatrice (NE), Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls (NY), Urban Honolulu (HI), and Wilmington (NC).

Although the overall air quality has improved across the country, the report notes that nearly 120 million Americans, or more than one in three, are exposed to ozone or particle pollution. There are marked differences in air quality between eastern and western states. Many of the most polluted places are in the Western USA, particularly California.

More Environmental Factors to Consider When Relocating

When choosing where to spend your golden years, you also need to consider noise levels, safety and security, public transportation, and accessibility of medical facilities. Many retirees will appreciate living in an environment offering community programs or suitable physical activities. 

The indoor environment of your future home is also vital. Easy and even access to the front door, one-level living space, and non-slippery flooring are necessary big-ticket features. However, just as important are some minor adjustments, such as handrails in the bathroom, beds of suitable height, good lighting, or a kettle with an automatic shut-off. 

A retired couple exercising following a healthy lifestyle that can prevent mental decline

Other Health Effects After Moving

Relocation stress syndrome (RSS), also called transfer trauma, can occur when a person moves from one environment to another. Symptoms usually last from a few weeks to several months and may include changes in eating or sleeping habits, headaches, stomach problems, falls, stress, anxiety, confusion, and depression.

People moving later in life can be susceptible to transfer trauma, particularly if they feel they are not in control of their relocation or do not know what to expect in the new environment.

To ease the transition, get to know the place that is to be your new home. It also helps to focus on the positive aspects instead of the negative ones. Think about the benefits. Your new place might be safer, better for socializing, more affordable, easier to manage, or closer to family. It might be in a warmer climate, have clean air, or offer various cultural or physical activities.

With good preparation and planning, relocating later in life can bring benefits such as better health, an increased sense of security, improved well-being, and positive aging. 

Have a Smooth Move With Shyft

When you've chosen the right spot to live in after retiring, let Shyft organize your relocation digitally. You don’t need to search for the right moving company, request quotes, or have movers come and survey your belongings.  

Shyft will tend to everything, from creating your inventory list to generating moving quotes and ensuring your possessions arrive safely. All that with minimal stress for you and with as little disturbance to your daily routine as possible.

On top of that, AARP members get an exclusive discount of up to $250 when they book their move at AARP® Moving Services powered by Shyft.

Shyft’s innovative moving app, Shyft Next, is where the magic of a stress-free move happens. The app is free and easy to use, even if you are not tech-savvy. 

The first step is to download the Shyft Next app for iPhone or Android and schedule a video call online or call Shyft at 1-888-501-3181. While you are at it, also get Shyft’s handy moving checklist to help you keep track of all details relevant to your relocation.

Your dedicated Move Coach will video call you at the appointed time and ask you to walk around your home, pointing the camera on your device at the items you want to take with you. She (or he) will inform you about your options and approximate costs.  

In only about half an hour, your Move Coach will take stock of your entire inventory with the help of the ShyftNext app. Shyft’s moving app is highly accurate. Of course, you can add or remove items or services when you receive your inventory list soon after the video call. 

The approved inventory list goes to the secure Shyft bidding platform, where Shyft-vetted professional movers compete for your moving project by offering their best pricing. Shyft cooperates with hundreds of moving companies that can provide any service you require.

You will get at least three top quotes from different companies. The quote you select becomes locked, and the price won’t change, unless the inventory or destination of the move changes. With Shyft, there are no hidden fees or costs.  

Whichever company you select to handle the move, Shyft oversees the process door-to-door. Your dedicated Move Coach is your single point of contact. You may contact Shyft 24/7 to enquire about anything relevant to your relocation.

Book your move with Shyft now. A smooth and stress-free experience awaits you, plus an exclusive discount of up to $250 if you are an AARP member.

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