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Elders Residing In High Air Pollution Area May Suffer from Decreased Cognitive Functionality

Update Date: Nov 17, 2012 05:34 AM EST

A new study, presented at The Gerontological Society of America's 65th Annual Scientific Meeting, San Diego, reveals that the elderly who live in areas with high air pollution may have decreased cognitive functionality.  

"As a result of age-related declines in health and functioning, older adults are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of exposure to unhealthy air," Jennifer Ailshire, PhD, a National Institute on Aging postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Biodemography and Population Health and the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California, said.

"Air pollution has been linked to increased cardiovascular and respiratory problems, and even premature death, in older populations, and there is emerging evidence that exposure to particulate air pollution may have adverse effects on brain health and functioning as well," Ailshire added.

The study, findings of which are based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Retirement Study, is the first to show the effect of air pollution on the cognitive function of older men and women.

According to the study, fine air particulate matter-composed of particles that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller, if inhaled, can deposit deep in the lungs and even in the brain. This may be an important environmental risk factor for reduced cognitive function, Medical Xpress reports.

For the study, the researchers observed 14,793 white, black, and Hispanic men and women aged 50 and older, participants of the 2004 Health and Retirement Study.

The researchers measured the cognitive function of the older adults on a scale of 1 to 35 and conducted tests on them which included word recall, knowledge, language, and orientation.

The findings of the study and the test results revealed that the elders who resided in areas with high air pollution or high levels of fine air particulate matter performed badly in the tests. The results were apparently consistent even after taking into consideration factors such as age, race/ethnicity, education, smoking behavior, and respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

The exposure to the fine air particulate matter ranged from 4.1 to 20.7 micrograms per cubic meter, and with every ten point increase in the levels, there was a 0.36 point drop in cognitive function score.

 Among the study participants, a one-year increase in age could be linked to a drop of 0.13 in cognitive function score.

Ailshire's presentation, "The Hazards of Bad Air: Fine Air Particulate Matter and Cognitive Function in Older U.S. Adults," took place on November 16.

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