A new study from scientists at Yale School of Public Health has found a strong link between long-term exposure to ozone and an increased risk of cognitive decline in older adults. This research adds to mounting evidence that air pollution could be a significant risk factor for an aging society.
Previous studies have suggested that fine matter floating in high concentrations in the atmosphere can lead to dementia and other cognitive disabilities. However, beyond airborne particles, little is known about how other pollutants can pose a similar risk.
The new study published in Environment International included an analysis of ambient ozone, a highly reactive gas that exists in much of smog at ground level. Researchers then observed outcomes in nearly 10,000 older adults across China and focused on the extent to which long-term ozone exposure may have impacted their cognitive impairment over time.
Researchers found some startling results. For every ten microgram increase of yearly average ozone, the risk for cognitive impairment grew more than 10%. It was also noted that the association held even when risk factors such as smoking, drinking, and education were abstracted away.
The study lead author said, “Our findings suggest potential benefits in delaying the progression of cognitive decline among older adults if ozone levels are reduced below the new WHO Global Air Quality Guideline for ozone pollution.”
This study is the first to establish this link between ozone levels and cognitive impairment across a large population over several years. Researchers believe more studies are needed to build upon these findings to help establish more reliable air quality guidelines across the globe.
Brain function can be a concern for many aging adults. While some degree of cognitive decline is nearly inevitable in aging, it is vital to take action against factors that can take a toll on the ability of the brain to function at peak potential. Such factors can affect memory, concentration, and overall cognitive function.
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