Escalating impact of climate change on neurological health

The climate crisis, among the various environmental disasters it is causing and will cause, could also negatively affect the health of those already suffering from neurological pathologies. The study was conducted by a team of researchers, led by the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology (UK)

In addition to its well-documented environmental impacts, the climate crisis may further exacerbate the health conditions of those already suffering from neurological disorders. This revelation comes from a study led by the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology in the United Kingdom, casting yet another dark shadow over climate change induced by human activities.

Researchers highlight the urgent need to understand the impact of climate change on individuals with neurological disorders, to preserve their health and prevent further deterioration.

The alarming findings emerged from a review of 332 articles published globally between 1968 and 2023, demonstrating that the potential effects of climate change on neurological diseases could be substantial.

Particularly, researchers focused on 19 different nervous system conditions identified in the Global Burden of Disease 2016 study, including stroke, migraine, Alzheimer’s disease, meningitis, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, as well as serious psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

“There is clear evidence of a climate impact on certain brain conditions, particularly stroke and infections of the nervous system,” explains Sanjay M. Sisodiya, the lead author of the study. “Climate variations shown to affect brain diseases included extreme temperatures (both low and high) and greater temperature variation throughout the day, especially when these were seasonally unusual.”

Concerning observations on minimum temperatures

Scientists are particularly troubled by observations concerning minimum temperatures.

Nighttime temperatures can be especially crucial, as higher temperatures at night may disrupt sleep. It is well-known that poor sleep exacerbates a range of brain conditions.

Researchers found that there was an increase in hospitalizations, disability, or mortality following a stroke at higher ambient temperatures or during heatwaves.

The team also states that individuals with dementia are vulnerable to damage from extreme temperatures (e.g., heat-related illnesses or hypothermia) and weather events (such as floods or fires), as cognitive deterioration can limit their ability to adapt their behavior to environmental changes.

Reduced risk awareness combines with a diminished ability to seek help or mitigate potential harm, such as drinking more water when it’s hot or changing how they dress. This susceptibility is worsened by frailty, multimorbidity, and psychotropic drugs. Consequently, greater temperature variability, hotter days, and heatwaves lead to an increase in hospital admissions and mortality associated with dementia.

It’s also clear that the incidence, hospital admissions, and mortality risk for many mental health disorders are linked to rising ambient temperatures, daily temperature fluctuations, or extreme temperatures of both hot and cold.

“This work occurs in a context of concerning deterioration of climate conditions and must remain agile and dynamic if it is to generate useful information for both individuals and organizations,” concludes Sisodiya. Moreover, there are few studies that estimate the health consequences of neurological diseases in future climate scenarios, making it difficult to plan ahead.

The research was funded by the Epilepsy Society and the National Brain Appeal Innovation Fund and published in The Lancet Neurology.

Sources: UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology / The Lancet Neurology

The article draws upon studies published and recommendations from international institutions and/or experts. We do not make claims in the medical-scientific field and report the facts as they are. Sources are indicated at the end of each article.
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