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Does climate change make stroke, MS, migraines, dementia worse?

Review of hundreds of studies sees increased neurological risk in climate change

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The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo.

In this July 27, 2018, file photo, the Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo.

J. David Ake, Associated Press

Climate change and pollution are making troublesome neurological disease symptoms worse, according to new research in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The authors reviewed 364 studies from 1990 to 2022 on climate change, neurological disorders, temperature and pollutants to reach their conclusion. As Forbes summarized findings, “extreme weather events accelerated by climate change are associated with an increase in strokes, migraines and seizures, an increase in hospital visits among patients with dementia and worsening severity of multiple sclerosis symptoms.”

The studies all involved adult subjects, not children.

The World Health Organization has referred to climate change as “the single biggest health threat facing humanity.”

The report said extreme weather is marked by drastic temperature change, high temperatures and heat waves.

Airborne pollutants were associated with a higher chance of having stroke, headaches, dementia and Parkinson’s disease, as well as more severe symptoms.

A release on ScienceDaily quoted review author Dr. Andrew Dhawan of the Cleveland Clinic, who is a member of the academy: “Although the international community seeks to reduce global temperature rise to under 2.7 ºF before 2100, irreversible environmental changes have already occurred, and as the planet warms these changes will continue to occur.” He added, “As we witness the effects of a warming planet on human health, it is imperative that neurologists anticipate how neurologic disease may change.”

Nor were those the only risks. High temperatures and flooding also increase tick and mosquito activity, which increases the likelihood of tick- and mosquito-borne illness, like West Nile virus. Warmer weather also creates conditions that help nervous system disorders like meningitis, polio and encephalitis occur.

Per The Daily Mail, “The study did not reflect on why dementia or multiple sclerosis may get worse with climate change.” The article theorizes, “It could be because elderly people are more at risk of health conditions generally during the heat, in part due to their age but also because they tend to live alone and may not drink enough.”

Dhawan said the review did not find studies that looked at the impact of food and water insecurity on neurologic health, though “these are clearly linked to neurologic health and climate change,” suggesting a need for more study in that area.

And the researchers noted that the studies were from parts of the world that are rich in resources and where lots of research is conducted. Other regions might be even more impacted by climate change, but have fewer resources to examine the impact.

Among the mechanisms of climate change, the researchers cited dehydration, which leads to brain shrinkage that puts pressure on nerves and causes pain.