Smog exposure as a child linked to cognitive decline in old age

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Air pollution is a particularly scary public health hazard. For the people who live in highly smoggy areas, it can be virtually impossible to avoid exposure. After all, one can’t decide to stop breathing whenever it stops being convenient. Now, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have discovered yet another detrimental effect of smog. Their findings reveal exposure to air pollution as a child can cause more severe cognitive decline in old age.

For some, the damage won’t be seen for up to 60 years after the fact. To reach these conclusions, researchers tested the thinking skills and intelligence of over 500 adults, all around 70 years-old. The team gave participants the exact same test they had once completed decades ago around the age of 11. Then, the seniors took that same test again on two more occasions; at 76 years-old and again at 79 years-old.

Study authors examined public records to determine smog levels in the areas where each person had grown up. Using all of that data, the Scottish team created a series of statistical models. This was done to determine the relationship between air pollution exposure as a child and elderly thinking skills. To ensure a comprehensive investigation, researchers also accounted for other potentially influential factors such as smoking habits and each person’s socio-economic status.

‘First step towards understanding harmful effects of air pollution on the brain’

The results indicate that childhood exposure to smog has a small but noticeable impact on cognitive changes between ages 11 and 70.

“For the first time we have shown the effect that exposure to air pollution very early in life could have on the brain many decades later. This is the first step towards understanding the harmful effects of air pollution on the brain and could help reduce the risk of dementia for future generations,” says Dr. Tom Russ, Director of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre, in a university release.

According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 50 million people who deal with dementia worldwide. There are around 10 million new cases of the disease every year.

The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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John Anderer

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