Air pollution has been linked to a higher incidence of cardiovascular and respiratory problems in older adults, and now a new study has shown that living in polluted areas can also lead to decreased cognitive function.
The study suggested that the amount of ‘fine air particulate matter’, or particles in the air which are thought to be small enough to deposit deep in the lungs or brain if inhaled, could affect cognitive function in older men and women.
The study included nearly 15,000 white, black and Hispanic men and women aged 50 and over in the USA. It looked at the annual average levels of fine air particulate matter. It also measured the cognitive function of each participant on a scale of 1 to 35. The cognitive tests included word recall, knowledge, language and orientation.
The study found that those living in areas with high levels of fine air particulate matter scored more poorly on cognitive function tests overall. This association remained after accounting for other factors such as age, ethnicity, education, smoking and medical conditions.
Within the study, fine air particulate matter exposure ranged from 4.1 to 20.7 micrograms per cubic metre. Every ten point increase was associated with a 0.36 cognitive function score.
A one-year increase in age was associated with a drop of 0.13 in cognitive function score across all participants, so the pollution was roughly equal to that of ageing three years instead of one. The more polluted the air, the more quickly the participants’ minds aged.
You can read more about the study in the article Bad air means bad news for seniors’ brainpower at the ScienceDaily website.