The Role of Traffic-Related Air Pollution on Neurodegenerative Diseases in Older People: An Epidemiological Perspective

J Alzheimers Dis. 2021;79(3):949-959. doi: 10.3233/JAD-200813.


Traffic-related air pollution is ubiquitous and almost impossible to avoid. It is important to understand the role that traffic-related air pollution may play in neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, particularly among older populations and at-risk groups. There is a growing interest in this area among the environmental epidemiology literature and the body of evidence identifying this role is emerging and strengthening. This review focuses on the principal components of traffic-related air pollutants (particulate matter and nitrogen oxides) and the epidemiological evidence of their contribution to common neurodegenerative diseases. All studies reported are currently observational in nature and there are mixed findings depending on the study design, assessment of traffic-related air pollutant levels, assessment of the neurodegenerative disease outcome, time period of assessment, and the role of confounding environmental factors and at-risk genetic characteristics. All current studies have been conducted in income-rich countries where traffic-related air pollution levels are relatively low. Additional longer-term studies are needed to confirm the levels of risk, consider other contributing environmental factors and to be conducted in settings where air pollution exposures are higher and at-risk populations reside and work. Better understanding of these relationships will help inform the development of preventive measures and reduce chronic cognitive and physical health burdens (cost, quality of life) at personal and societal levels.

Keywords: Air pollution; Alzheimer’s disease; Parkinson’s disease; dementia; mild cognitive impairment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Traffic-Related Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter