People born and brought up in rural areas are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s, according to a new study by scientists at Edinburgh University.
The study looked at 51 papers on the subject involving 12,580 medical records from people around the world. The records used were a mix of those from the UK and other Western nations and countries with lower development levels, such as Nigeria.
The researchers could not explain the reason but found that for Alzheimer’s in particular, though not dementia as a whole, there was a markedly higher number of cases in rural areas than in cities.
Dr Tom Russ, who led the study, said: "We don't really know the mechanism. It could be to do with access to health care, exposure to some unknown substance, socioeconomic factors, or a number of other factors. We're currently looking into this question in more detail."
He stressed that it may not necessarily be the countryside itself that is harmful, but rather the lower risk may be due to the benefits of living in cities.
Researchers hope studies such as this will enable them to discover clues to the illness earlier, allowing more treatment options. This is particularly important as experts have predicted the number of sufferers in the UK will double in the next four decades because of our aging population. Around 820,000 people in this country are currently affected.