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Air Pollution May Hasten Cognitive Decline in Older Adults

Higher exposure linked to lower scores on thinking and memory tests and faster cognitive loss over time

LA skyline in smog

THURSDAY, April 8, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to air pollution may have adverse effects on cognitive aging and brain health in older adults, according to a study published online April 8 in Neurology.

Erin R. Kulick, Ph.D., from the Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island, and colleagues evaluated data from two prospective cohorts of residents in the northern Manhattan area of New York City: the Washington Heights-Inwood Community Aging Project (WHICAP) and the Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS). The authors sought to examine the association between long-term exposure to ambient air pollution and cognitive decline in older adults residing in an urban area.

The researchers found that among 5,330 participants in WHICAP, an increase in nitrogen dioxide was associated with a 0.22-standard deviation lower global cognitive score at enrollment and a 0.06-standard deviation more rapid decline in cognitive scores between visits. Results were similar for fine particulate matter and respirable particulate matter and across functional cognitive domains. There was no association noted between pollution and cognitive function in NOMAS.

"As people live longer lives and the aging population grows, age-related cognitive decline is a growing public health concern with profound social, economic and health effects, so finding ways to reduce the risk is important," Kulick said in a statement.

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