Modern living could be responsible for an 'almost epidemic' increase in neurological brain disease, according to new research from Bournemouth University.
Published in the USA journal Surgical Neurology International the study compared 21 Western countries between 1989 and 2010 and found that dementias are starting a decade earlier than they used to in adults.
Furthermore deaths caused by neurological disease have risen significantly in adults aged 55-74, and for adults 75+ the rate has virtually doubled in every Western country in just the last 20 years.
In the US, the problem is particularly acute; neurological deaths in male over 75s have nearly trebled and females rose more than five-fold.
For the first time since records began, more elderly US women died of brain disease than cancer.
Professor Colin Pritchard of Bournemouth University led the study said "The rate of increase in such a short time suggests a silent or even a `hidden' epidemic, in which environmental factors must play a major part, not just ageing. Modern living produces multi-interactional environmental pollution but the changes in human morbidity, including neurological disease is remarkable and points to environmental influences".
Professor Prichard continued, "Furthermore are the practical implications for families trying to cope as front-line services are being swamped. For example, the remarkable increase in Motor Neurone Disease in the UK, as well as the earlier dementias. Exemplified in a new charity `Young Dementia UK, who report that many of their clients are in their late 40's and early 50's- something unthinkable twenty years ago"
"In part, some of the results are explained by more effective treatments for cancer and heart disease, with advances in medicine making such physical illnesses easier to treat, whilst there have been less advances in the treatment of neurological conditions"
"Crucially it is not just because people are living longer to get diseases they previously would not have lived long enough to develop but older people are developing neurological disease more than ever before.
The environmental changes in the last 20 years have seen increases in the human environment of petro-chemicals - air transport- quadrupling of motor vehicles, insecticides and rises in background electro-magnetic-field, and so on".
"These results will not be welcome news as there are many with short-term vested interests that will want to ignore them. It is not that we want to stop the modern world but rather make it safer.
Essentially, it is time for us to wake up and realise that a major problem we now face is unprecedented levels of neurological disease, not just the earlier dementias and thinking of the USA - `when America sneezes, Europe gets cold a decade later`."