Could Living Near a Highway Increase Your Risk of Dementia?

There are a number of reasons why it could be hazardous to live near a highway—noise and traffic ranking pretty high—but according to a new Canadian study in The Lancet, your risk of developing dementia could increase the closer you live to a major road.

In a study of more than 6 million people, researchers found a link between dementia development and a person's proximity to a major road, such as an interstate highway or parkway. People living less than 50 meters (164 feet) from a major road were 7 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who live more than 300 meters from one. The risk drops as you get further away, with a 4 percent higher chance at 50 to 100 meters away and a 2 percent higher chance at a distance of 101 to 200 meters. The study was conducted on people living in Ontario between 20 and 85 years old from 2001 to 2012.

“Our findings show the closer you live to roads with heavy day-to-day traffic, the greater the risk of developing dementia,” says Public Health Ontario epidemiologist Hong Chen, who co-led the study. “With our widespread exposure to traffic and the greater tendency for people to live in cities these days, this has serious public health implications.”

While the study found a link between highway proximity and risk of dementia, there's no concrete evidence as to why this actually happens. However, there have been studies done on the link between developing dementia and air pollution, which is an everyday hazard when living near a busy highway. As the study points out, though, the risk shrinks significantly as you move further away.

"There is a gradient of increased risk as you get closer to major roadways," study co-lead Ray Copes, chief of environmental and occupational health at Public Health Ontario, told CNN. "By the time you're 200 meters away, the risk is essentially down to baseline."

According to the World Health Organization, there are 47.5 million people living with dementia worldwide, with 7.7 million new cases diagnosed every year—the most common cause being Alzheimer's disease, which accounts for 60 to 70 percent of cases. The team also investigated whether there was any higher risk of developing Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis when living near a highway but found no link.

[h/t New Scientist]

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97 Percent of Us Are Washing Our Hands All Wrong
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Most of us know the importance of washing our hands, but we're still pretty clueless when it comes to washing them the right way. As CNN reports, we fall short of washing our hands effectively 97 percent of the time.

That number comes from a new study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that looked at 383 participants in a test-kitchen environment. When they were told to wash their hands, the vast majority of subjects walked away from the sink after less than 20 seconds—the minimum hand-washing time recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of them also failed to dry their hands with a clean towel.

The researchers had participants cooking and handling raw meats. Because they didn't wash their hands properly, volunteers were spreading potentially dangerous germs to spice jars 48 percent of the time, contaminating refrigerator handles 11 percent of the time, and doing the same to salads 5 percent of the time.

People who don't wash their hands the correct way risk spreading harmful microbes to everything they touch, making themselves and those they live with more susceptible to certain infections like gastrointestinal illness and respiratory infections. Luckily, the proper hand-washing protocol isn't that complicated: The biggest change most of us need to make is investing more time.

According to the CDC, you need to rub your hands with soapy water for at least 20 seconds to get rid of harmful bacteria. A helpful trick is to sing "Happy Birthday" twice as you wash—once you're finished, you should have passed the 20-second mark. And if your bathroom or kitchen doesn't have a clean towel to dry your hands with, let them air-dry. 

[h/t CNN]

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This Mysterious Condition Makes People Think Bugs Are Crawling Under Their Skin
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After seeing a spider or beetle scurry past you, it’s normal to get a creepy-crawly feeling, even if you know there’s nothing on you. For many people, though, the persistent sensation of phantom insects or parasites crawling underneath their skin—known as formication—is very real, Newsweek reports.

The condition is called delusional infestation, and although cases have been documented around the world, there hasn’t been enough research to determine if it’s a skin condition or psychological disorder. However, two new studies are attempting to shed light on the mysterious ailment that can cause symptoms such as itching, fatigue, joint pain, rashes or lesions, and difficulty concentrating. Some people have reported picking “fibers” out of their skin.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic and Denmark’s Aarhus University Hospital believe tens of thousands of Americans could have this condition, making it more common than previously thought. Their study, published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, found that people with the condition are often “resistant to medical evidence [showing that there is no infestation] and reluctant to pursue psychiatric evaluation.” Some patients, convinced that they have something crawling underneath their skin, self-harm with tweezers, bleach, or razor blades.

The researchers stopped short of calling it a psychological condition, but they did conclude that schizophrenia, dementia, other psychiatric conditions, and drug use can trigger delusional infestation in some cases, Science News reports.

Another new study, published in the journal Annals of the Academy of Medicine of Singapore [PDF], also seemed to favor a psychological explanation for the condition. The researchers noted that Chinese patients with the condition were treated with antipsychotics, and 10 of the 11 patients with isolated cases of delusional infestation (who had no other underlying disorders) improved with medication.

However, other researchers have drawn different conclusions, arguing that the condition is the skin's response to “tick-borne pathogens” typically associated with Lyme disease. The condition has gone by several names over the years, including Morgellons disease—a term coined in 2004 by a medical researcher and mother who says she found “fibers” on her young son’s skin after he kept scratching at the "bugs" he claimed were there. Regardless of the origin, what's clear is that the condition has very real consequences for those who suffer from it, and more research is needed to find suitable treatments.

[h/t Newsweek]

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