Spending Time Around Traffic Is Literally Destroying Your Brain

New research finds a marked increase in dementia among those living by busy roadways.

22 January 2017, 9:30pm

The highways around where I live in Portland, Oregon are like congestion voids—black holes or boundless oceans. You go in hoping to reappear elsewhere in the city or beyond, but without any assurance of exiting at all; time and space cease to have any meaning as waves and waves of Subarus roll toward the horizon. As once-plentiful provisions of Planet Money podcasts dwindle, you can feel madness setting in.

As it turns out, being around traffic for extended periods of time may have a very real effect on the human brain. This is according to Health Canada-funded research published this month in the Lancet that looked at the neurological health of two large-scale populations living in Ontario consisting of several million adults each. The study found that those individuals living closest to busy highways suffered from significantly increased rates of dementia, a symptom of irreversible neurodegeneration.

Specifically, the study found that up to one in 10 cases of dementia could be attributed to traffic exposure. This backs up earlier research finding that living near roadways—and the associated air pollution—can be tied to "insidious effects on structural brain aging."

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