Adding to growing evidence that electromagnetic fields may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, University of Southern California researchers report today that the incidence of the disease is sharply higher among people occupationally exposed to the fields, popularly called EMF.
The results, published in the journal Neurology, indicate that people who are exposed to high EMF levels on the job - seamstresses in particular - have, on average, about three to five times the normal risk of contracting this devastating disease of aging.
The results, from a study at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in Downey, Calif., follow a September report from the national Centers from Disease Control and Prevention indicating that a broad variety of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, are more common among workers exposed to EMF.
“We’re not talking about exposure in the home from high-power lines,” said Dr. Eugene Sobel of USC, the primary author. “These are much higher exposures than are usually found in residences.”
The greatest risk was for people who operate sewing machines. “Seamstresses are highly overrepresented among Alzheimer’s cases, and their exposure is the highest for all occupations,” Sobel said. The exposure is high because they work so close to the motor in the machine.
Also at risk are carpenters and others who use electrically powered tools held close to the body, he said.
Many researchers are skeptical of the finding, however. “Our bottom line is that (the results) are really too preliminary to say anything,” said Dr. Neil Buckholtz, director of Alzheimer’s research at the National Institute on Aging, which sponsored the research.
In contrast, EMF expert Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News, calls the results “very important … The thing about Sobel’s findings is that we now have four data sets, across different countries and different populations, with consistent results … That points to the need to investigate this further.”
Sobel, Zoreh Davanipour and their colleagues studied 326 Alzheimer’s victims over the age of 65 and compared them to 152 non-Alzheimer’s patients.
They found, primarily through interviews with family members, that males with Alzheimer’s were 4.9 times as likely to have had a high occupational exposure to EMF and females were 3.4 times as likely.