Study Finds Climate Change Will Worsen Brain Diseases

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Last reviewed: 14.06.2024

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16 May 2024, 07:40

Climate change and its impact on weather patterns and severe weather events is likely to have a negative impact on the health of people with brain diseases, says a team of researchers led by University College London (UCL).

In a paper published in The Lancet Neurology, the team highlights the urgent need to understand the impact of climate change on people with neurological diseases to keep them healthy and prevent worsening inequalities.

Following a review of 332 papers published worldwide from 1968 to 2023, researchers led by Professor Sanjay Sisodia (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) concluded that the magnitude of the potential impact of climate change on neurological diseases will be significant.


They looked at 19 different nervous system diseases selected from the 2016 Global Burden of Disease study, including stroke, migraine, Alzheimer's disease, meningitis, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

The team also analyzed the impact of climate change on several serious but common psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

Professor Sisodia, who is also director of genomics at the Epilepsy Society and founder of Epilepsy Climate Change, said: “There is clear evidence of climate effects on some brain diseases, particularly stroke and nervous system infections. Climatic changes that have shown effects on brain disease have included extreme temperatures (both low and high), and large diurnal temperature fluctuations, especially when these changes were seasonally unusual.

“Night-time temperatures can be especially important, as higher temperatures at night can disrupt sleep. Poor sleep is known to aggravate a number of brain diseases."

Researchers have found that the rate of hospitalization, disability, or death due to stroke increases at higher ambient temperatures or during periods of heat waves.

Additionally, the team states that people with dementia are vulnerable to harm from extreme temperatures (such as heat stroke or hypothermia) and weather events (such as floods or forest fires). Fires), as cognitive impairment may limit their ability to adapt to environmental changes.

The researchers write: “Reduced awareness of risk is coupled with a reduced ability to seek help or mitigate potential harm, such as drinking more water in hot weather or adjusting clothing. This vulnerability is exacerbated by frailty, multiple illnesses, and psychotropic medications. Accordingly, greater temperature fluctuations, hotter days, and heat waves lead to increased hospitalizations and deaths associated with dementia.”

In addition, morbidity, hospitalization, and mortality risk for many mental disorders are associated with elevated ambient temperatures, daily temperature fluctuations, or extremes of hot and cold temperatures.

The researchers note that as the severity of severe weather events increases and global temperatures rise, populations are exposed to worsening environmental factors that may not have been severe enough to affect brain disease in some of the earlier studies reviewed in the analysis.

As a result, they believe it is important to ensure that research is relevant and considers not only the current state of climate change, but also the future.

Professor Sisodia said: “This work comes against a backdrop of alarming deterioration in climate conditions and must remain flexible and dynamic to provide information useful to both individuals and organizations. Moreover, there are few studies assessing the health outcomes of brain diseases under future climate scenarios, making forward planning difficult.”

He added: “The concept of climate anxiety is an additional, potentially significant factor: many brain diseases are associated with a higher risk of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, and such multiple diseases may further complicate the effects of climate change and the adaptations needed to stay healthy. But there are actions that we can and should take now.”

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