Rising global temperatures and the spread of airborne pollutants could worsen the symptoms of neurological diseases including dementia, strokes, Parkinson’s disease and ALS, researchers warned Wednesday, as scientists continue to evaluate the harmful effects of climate change on human health.
A report published in the American Academy of Neurology’s medical journal Neurology analyzed multiple studies that found 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.
Extreme weather changes include high heat and heat waves—which scorched several regions of the U.S., Europe and Asia this summer—as well as drastic changes in temperature.
The report—which reviewed 364 studies on climate change, pollutants, extreme weather and neurologic disease between 1990 and 2022—also found airborne pollutants, including fine particulate matter containing copper and nitrates, were associated with greater risk and severity of stroke, headaches, dementia and Parkinson’s disease, ALS.
Several studies analyzed in the review also linked increased flooding to a wider range of infectious diseases, including mosquito-borne West Nile virus, meningococcal meningitis and encephalitis—although researchers admitted “regional factors beyond temperature alone,” including land use and population density, may also be responsible for spreading disease.
Even worse, natural disasters made stronger by climate change can disrupt medical care—researchers say there’s an “unmet need in planning” for neurologic care “in the face of ecological instability.”
Scientists have pointed to climate change as a culprit behind accelerating droughts and wildfires, rising seas, heat waves and stronger storms. However, the effect of rising temperatures on human health has not been analyzed as extensively. Andrew Dhawan, a neurologist at the Cleveland Clinic who contributed to the report, said researchers couldn’t find any studies analyzing the effect of food and water insecurity on neurological harm, even though food and water shortages are “clearly linked to neurological health and climate change.”
Recent studies have also found climate change could likely spark future pandemics and aggravate infectious diseases. According to a recent World Health Organization report, climate change could cause the “single biggest health threat facing humanity.” That report found rising temperatures, food scarcity, increased risk of disease and dangerous weather such as heat waves and storms could undo 50 years of vastly improving global health, and it could disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations around the world. Further analysis has linked the spread of infectious diseases to climate change, with pathogens moving closer to humans as the planet warms, while droughts and floods have moved humans closer to pathogens, according to a review published in July in the journal Nature Climate Change.
2.9 degrees Celsius. That’s how much global temperatures are expected to rise by the end of the century, according to an October United Nations report. The study also found greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a rate much higher than what’s necessary to meet the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
WHO Calls Climate Change ‘Single Biggest Health Threat Facing Humanity’ (Forbes)
Over Half Of Infectious Diseases Could Be Worsened By Climate Change, Study Finds (Forbes)
Climate Change Could Spark Future Pandemics, Study Finds (Forbes)