Brain Diseases Are Getting Worse as Climate Change Intensifies


Climate change adversely affects people’s health, particularly those with neurological and psychiatric conditions. According to a new study, symptoms of neurological diseases such as stroke, migraine, meningitis, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's have become more severe with increasing temperatures and humidity .

Our brains play a crucial role in managing environmental challenges, such as regulating body temperature through sweating and prompting us to seek shade. Billions of neurons in our brain function like adaptable computers, but their components operate optimally within a narrow temperature range. Humans evolved to thrive in temperatures between 20°C to 26°C and 20% to 80% humidity. However, extreme climate conditions disrupt this balance, affecting brain function. 

Heatwaves further intensify these effects, impacting sleep quality, worsening epilepsy symptoms, and increasing stroke risk. Climate change will have multifaceted effects on people with neurological diseases, including higher dementia hospital admissions, deteriorating seizure control, and exacerbated psychiatric conditions. Unusual temperature fluctuations and extreme weather events amplify these consequences, especially in urban environments lacking green spaces.

The global scale of those with neurological and psychiatric conditions that could be adversely affected by climate change is huge. About 60 million people have epilepsy worldwide. Globally, about 55 million people have dementia, with over 60% living in low- and middle-income countries. 
As the world's population ages, these numbers are projected to increase to over 150 million by 2050. Stroke is the second-leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability worldwide.

Reference: Sisodiya SM, et al. Lancet Neurol 2024;23(6):636-648.