A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggests that lead might play a role in the development of dementia. Researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) reported this after finding a link between lifetime lead exposure and greater dementia risk. In particular, they found that dementia cases decreased as the use of lead declined over the past several decades.
The link between lead and a newfound type of dementia
As a neurotoxin, lead is extremely harmful to the brain. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and damage or kill brain cells. Past studies involving people exposed to lead at work have linked lead exposure to dementia.
In their study, U of T researchers hypothesized that lead contributes to the development of LATE, or Limbic-predominant Age-related TDP-43 Encephalopathy.
LATE is a recently identified type of dementia and affects around 20 percent of dementia patients over the age of 80. Much remains unknown about LATE, but people with this disease exhibit symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s, including memory loss.
The researchers pointed to fewer dementia cases to support their hypothesis. Many studies have shown that the number of dementia patients has decreased over the past decades. This could be attributed to the lower prevalence of smoking, higher educational attainment and better management of hypertension among today’s older adults compared to previous generations.