(RxWiki News) Older women should be mindful about the air they breathe: Chronic exposure to air pollution may be hurting your ability to think, reason and remember.
Researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago tracked the effects of air pollution in thousands of women and found that older women exposed to high levels of “particulate matter” over the long term experienced a greater decline in their cognitive functioning, which is how your brain process information.
The reduction in cognitive functioning occurred over a four-year period, they reported.
"Air pollution may hurt your health - know your air quality."
Particulate matter is made up of several small particles in the air, including acids, organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Particle that are less 2.5 microns in diameter – or 1/30th the width of human hair – are considered “fine,” while larger particles are considered “coarse,” notes the study.
The researchers also found that higher levels of long-term exposure to coarse and fine particulate matter led to faster cognitive decline.
Lead investigator Dr. Jennifer Weuve, assistant professor of the Rush Institute of Healthy Aging, and colleagues, tracked 19,409 women between the ages of 70 to 81, all of whom were part of the Nurses’ Health Study Cognitive Cohort, for a period of 14 years, with some women being studied as far back as 1988.
Little is known about the role of particulate matter exposure and its relationship to cognitive decline, says Weuve.
The scientists assessed how much air pollution each woman had been exposed to both recently and long term (7-14 years), then they measured the rate of cognitive decline by using telephone assessments that were administered three times every two years. The women were tested on general cognition, verbal memory, category fluency, working memory, and attention.
The researchers found that, overall, a woman’s cognition declined by 0.020 standard units per 10 ug/m3 (a unit of measurement for air particles) when she was exposed to larger particles over the long term. Women exposed to fine particles experienced a 0.018-unit decline in cognition. This indicates that over the long term, exposure to every 10-ug/m3 increment of particles can age a woman by approximately two years, says the study.
Exposure to particulate air pollution is linked to cardiovascular risk, which contributes to accelerating cognitive decline, according to a Rush University Medical Center press release.
The authors point out that air pollution is a modifiable risk factor, and the public can influence this risk factor through “policy, regulation and technology,” says Dr. Weuve.
Reducing air pollution may slow the advancement of age-related cognitive decline and dementia in future generations, she says.
Traffic emissions (the pollution emitted from trains, cars and other vehicles) is one of the largest contributors to air pollution, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can lead to many respiratory problems. To reduce your exposure to air pollution, you may need to change your lifestyle or become involved with government, industry or environmental interest groups, says the EPA website.
This study was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, and funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental.