The Correlation Between Asbestos Exposure and Alzheimer’s Disease

old man at bed

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 6.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease as of 2022. Experts project that this number will rise to nearly 13 million by 2050.

Alzheimer’s disease is often associated with the loss of various cognitive functions affecting memory, mood, behavior, or performance of familiar tasks at home or work.

In some cases, loss of cognitive functioning can also manifest in individuals with mesothelioma or those exposed to asbestos. Visit the Mesothelioma Group website for more information about asbestos exposure and the stages of mesothelioma.

What is Alzheimer’s disease? How is asbestos exposure related to this condition? Is there a correlation between asbestos exposure, Alzheimer’s, and mesothelioma?

This article explains what Alzheimer’s disease is and how asbestos exposure and mesothelioma are related to this disorder.

What Is Alzheimer’s Disease and How Does It Relate to Asbestos Exposure?

Alzheimer’s disease is dementia associated with memory loss, potentially leading to the loss of one’s ability to respond to their environment and carry on a conversation.

Scientists don’t fully understand what causes Alzheimer’s, but several factors can affect each person in various ways:

  • Age is a common risk factor for the disease.
  • Family history or genetics can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s, although a healthy lifestyle may help reduce your risk.
  • Changes in the brain due to Alzheimer’s can occur years before the first symptoms show up.
  • Studies are ongoing to determine how diet, education, and environmental factors contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s.
  • Healthy behaviors that help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and cancer may help lower the risk for subjective cognitive decline.

Some individuals associate Alzheimer’s disease with asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a material that usually causes mesothelioma, a type of cancer.

Individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma often report experiencing impaired cognitive functioning, usually described as similar to dementia. This cognitive impairment has symptoms like short-term memory loss, brain fog, sudden fatigue, an inability to focus, and difficulty multitasking.

In other words, persons with Alzheimer’s may exhibit similar cognition-related symptoms as those with mesothelioma.

But so far, scientists haven’t found any concrete evidence directly linking asbestos exposure or mesothelioma to cognitive disabilities associated with dementia like Alzheimer’s.

Still, scientists believe there may be a connection between mesothelioma and cognitive impairment because these conditions tend to develop in older adults.

cancer bed COPD

Alzheimer’s, Asbestos Exposure, and Mesothelioma

Asbestos is a natural mineral often used for numerous applications like insulation and flooring because of its strength and resistance to heat.

Despite the many uses of asbestos, exposure to this material has been the primary cause of mesothelioma.

Scientists haven’t established a direct link between Alzheimer’s disease and mesothelioma. Still, both diseases may share symptoms that affect one’s mental health.

For example, mesothelioma patients receiving cancer treatment can experience anxiety and have a depressed mood. Clinical depression affects around 25% of all cancer patients but can be four times higher for patients with mesothelioma.

Likewise, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease can have symptoms like mood and personality changes, aggression, and increased anxiety. Experts estimate up to 40% of individuals with Alzheimer’s experience significant depression.

How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma

When asbestos gets broken up, such as when mining or removing asbestos insulation, this material can produce dust, which can get inhaled or swallowed. The asbestos fibers can settle in the stomach or lungs, irritating these organs and leading to mesothelioma.

In particular, your risk of developing this condition increases with the following factors:

  • Personal or family history of asbestos exposure: You or someone in your family may have been directly exposed to asbestos.
  • Living with someone frequently working with asbestos: Individuals exposed regularly to asbestos may carry dust or fibers on their clothes or skin and bring these stray fibers home, exposing other residents to asbestos.

Most people with mesothelioma are those exposed to asbestos in their line of work. Jobs likely to get exposed to this material include:

  • Asbestos miners
  • Home remodelers
  • Electricians
  • Insulators
  • Plumbers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Demolition workers

If you’re working in any of these jobs, ask your employer whether you’ll be at risk of asbestos exposure. The information you get can help you take the necessary precautions to minimize or prevent contact with this material.

Mesothelioma can cause physical symptoms, including chest pains, shortness of breath, painful coughing, and unusual lumps on the chest. These symptoms manifest primarily for pleural mesothelioma, which affects the tissue surrounding the lungs.

For peritoneal mesothelioma affecting the abdomen tissues, its symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling, nausea, and unexplained weight loss.

Many people exposed to asbestos don’t develop mesothelioma, suggesting that other factors can determine whether someone gets this type of cancer. 

For example, your family history can increase your likelihood of inheriting a predisposition to cancer.

Scientists still don’t fully understand the mechanism that causes asbestos to trigger mesothelioma, especially since it can take 20 to 60 years for the disease to develop after one gets exposed to asbestos.

Still, getting a diagnosis early on is better, especially if you or someone you know has been working in an industry dealing with asbestos. 

The five-year survival rate for people with mesothelioma is 18% when cancer is detected at an early stage. But this rate can go down to 7% when cancer spreads to other parts of the body.

You can visit the American Cancer Society’s website for more information about mesothelioma and other types of cancer.