We all know that pollution has a negative impact on our physical wellbeing, but many people discount the effects of noise pollution on their health. That may change, however, as the research stacks up concerning excess noise and how it impacts our bodies and brains.
A recent study shows that higher noise levels in urban and suburban communities versus more rural areas may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and cognitive issues.
Researchers used the records from 5,227 participants of the Chicago Health and Aging Project who were all 65 years of age or older. Of these participants, about 30 percent had mild cognitive impairment, and another 11 percent had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers found that people living with 10 decibels more noise near their residences during the day were 36 percent more likely to have mild cognitive impairment and 30 percent more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease than other participants.
“These findings suggest that within typical urban communities in the United States, higher levels of noise may impact the brains of older adults and make it harder for them to function without assistance. This is an important finding since millions of Americans are currently impacted by high levels of noise in their communities,” says senior author Sara D. Adar, ScD, of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor.
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Professor Adar also says that “although noise has not received a great deal of attention in the United States to date, there is a public health opportunity here as there are interventions that can reduce exposures both at the individual and population level.”
Worryingly, it may not take a very large difference in noise levels to create these cognitive problems. As little as 10 extra decibels over a long period of time could make the difference between healthy and disordered cognition.
Humans can hear between zero and 140 decibels. Zero decibels is the hearing threshold for the human ear, with 10 decibels being 10 times that amount of noise. 10 decibels could be as quiet a sound as someone breathing or a leaf falling to the ground. It’s amazing that such a small difference in sounds over a long period of time could make such an impact on our health.
The study was published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?