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May 16, 2024

Climate Change Escalates Neurological and Mental Health Issues: Study

A recent study from University College London reveals that climate change is not only a public health crisis but also a burgeoning threat to neurological and mental health. The research, led by Professor Sanjay Sisodiya from the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, examines how extreme heat and climate-driven disasters exacerbate neurological diseases and mental health disorders. The findings suggest that environmental factors significantly affect the prevalence of these conditions and increase the risk of hospital admissions, disability, and death.

The health impacts of climate change have been widely documented, particularly concerning infectious and respiratory diseases. However, the effects on neurological health have received less attention. The body’s temperature regulation plays a crucial role in the increase of conditions triggered by extreme heat. According to Sisodiya, “The brain needs to be maintained within a narrow temperature range to function correctly. If a neurological disease impairs this thermoregulation, extreme heat can significantly worsen the condition.”

Further research is essential to understand the mechanisms linking higher temperatures to neurological disorders. As extreme weather events become more frequent, understanding these connections is vital, especially for vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions.

The study reviewed 332 reports on environmental impacts on 19 neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, migraines, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and meningitis. It also considered psychiatric disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, which often coexist with neurological diseases. The results show that weather influences each condition uniquely, but most are broadly linked to higher prevalence and worsened symptoms.

Key findings indicate that individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias have difficulty adapting to extreme heat, which can lead to fatal or disabling strokes. Epilepsy, exacerbated by sleep deprivation, is also affected by high nighttime temperatures, a growing concern with climate change. The study highlighted that extreme cold also negatively impacts health.

The incidence of mental health disorders, hospitalizations, and deaths were strongly associated with increased ambient temperatures. For instance, a report included in the study noted that mental health-related emergency room visits in the U.S. surged during extreme heat days between 2010 and 2019. Extreme weather events like storms and wildfires can trigger acute anxiety, PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Burcin Ikiz, a neuroscientist focused on environmental impacts on the brain, emphasized that heat stress can cause undetected brain damage until it’s too late for effective intervention. “Our brains enter a stress response with rising temperatures, leading to inflammation and degeneration affecting cognitive health,” Ikiz explained. She warned that by 2050, neurological disorders might spike among people in their 40s and 50s, much earlier than previously seen, due to combined stresses from heat, pollution, and microplastics.

Both Sisodiya and Ikiz advocate for increased research and policy action to mitigate the economic and health toll of climate change, particularly in poorer nations. As the world braces for another summer of record-breaking heat, individuals are encouraged to take protective measures.

“Beyond reducing fossil fuel emissions, we need effective weather alerts and public awareness on how to stay safe,” said Sisodiya. Recommendations include staying out of the sun during peak hours, keeping living spaces cool, staying hydrated, and ensuring a sufficient supply of medications.

In conclusion, the study underscores the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to address the multifaceted health impacts of climate change, with a particular focus on neurological and mental health. Proactive measures and informed policies are essential to safeguard vulnerable populations from the escalating risks posed by a warming planet.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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