Climate Change Worsens Symptoms of Brain Conditions, New Review Finds

Neurological diseases offer insights into the potential impacts on the healthy brain when pushed beyond evolutionary limits, highlighting urgent need to act against climate change.

A new review highlights the alarming impact of climate change on neurological health, revealing that rising temperatures and humidity levels can exacerbate symptoms of various brain conditions. Among the affected conditions are stroke, migraines, meningitis, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s.

Human brains are essential in managing environmental challenges like high temperatures and humidity, triggering responses like sweating and seeking shade. Each neuron functions like a learning computer, operating within a specific temperature range. Climate change causes rapid deviations from these accustomed conditions, causing brain malfunctions.

Humans, having evolved in Africa, are generally comfortable within a temperature range of 20°C to 26°C and 20% to 80% humidity. Many brain components are already working near the upper limits of their temperature range, meaning even small increases can disrupt their function. Extreme temperatures and humidity, now more frequent due to climate change, challenge our brain’s ability to maintain these conditions, leading to various neurological issues.

Certain neurological and psychiatric diseases impair the body’s ability to cool itself through perspiration or the brain’s ability to recognize overheating.

Medications used to treat these conditions can exacerbate the problem by reducing sweating or disturbing the brain’s temperature-regulating mechanisms. Heatwaves further complicate matters, disrupting sleep and worsening conditions like epilepsy, making faulty neural wiring in multiple sclerosis more problematic, and increasing the risk of dehydration-induced strokes.

The evidence is clear: climate change significantly impacts individuals with neurological diseases. Rising temperatures correlate with increased hospital admissions for dementia, deteriorated seizure control in epilepsy, worsened symptoms in multiple sclerosis, and a higher incidence of strokes. Psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia also see heightened symptoms and more frequent hospital admissions during extreme heat.

During the 2003 European heatwave, approximately 20% of excess deaths were among individuals with neurological conditions. Unseasonal local temperature extremes, larger temperature fluctuations throughout the day, and adverse weather events like heatwaves, storms, and floods further exacerbate these conditions. Urban environments, with their heat-retaining structures and lack of green spaces, amplify the harmful effects of heatwaves on neurological and psychiatric diseases.

The global scale of those affected by neurological and psychiatric conditions vulnerable to climate change is vast. Around 60 million people worldwide have epilepsy, and approximately 55 million live with dementia, with over 60% residing in low- and middle-income countries. As the global population ages, these numbers are projected to rise to over 150 million by 2050. Stroke remains the second-leading cause of death and a major cause of disability worldwide.

While the need to combat climate change is evident, mitigation efforts will take years to yield significant results. In the meantime, we can support those with neurological diseases by providing tailored information on the risks associated with adverse weather events and temperature extremes.

Healthcare professionals can educate patients on risk reduction strategies, and we can adapt local weather-health alert systems to address neurological diseases. Collaboration with affected individuals, their families, and caregivers is essential to ensure these alerts and responses are practical and effective.

Addressing climate change as part of neurological care is crucial to preserving the benefits of ongoing scientific advancements.

Neurological diseases offer insights into the potential impacts on the healthy brain when pushed beyond evolutionary limits, highlighting the urgent need to act against climate change. To continue leading the lives we desire, it is imperative to pay attention to the increasing temperatures and take action against climate change. Our brains depend on it, and climate change poses a significant threat to their well-being.