It has long been known that air pollution can cause breathing problems and other physical ailments but a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences now shows air pollution could also affect your ability to think.
Researchers from Yale University, Beijing Normal University and Peking University found a link between air pollution and cognitive decline in residents of China. A total of 25,000 people across 162 counties in China were given a series of math and verbal tests. The volunteers included both men and women and the ages ranged from teens to the elderly.
The test scores of the individuals were compared with the air quality readings for the different geographic regions at the time of the exams. Researchers discovered a direct correlation between the amount of pollution and the test scores as people grew older.
The biggest impact was noticed on the test scores of males, especially those with less education. Researchers believe the reason for that is because men that are less educated tend to work more outside which would expose them to greater amounts of polluted air. They also said the fact the decline was seen as increasing over time is a reason to believe it is as a result of air pollution rather than other sources. They also noticed evidence of an increase in neurodegenerative diseases.
The researchers do not know exactly how pollution is causing the cognitive decline but they think it could be affecting the brain’s white matter, which is responsible for coordinating communications between the brain regions. They are also unsure what pollutants are responsible for the damage. The ones tracked in this study were nitrogen, sulfur dioxide and various other particulates less than 10 micrometers in diameter. They did not take into consideration larger particles or carbon monoxide or ozone.
The results concern the researchers because of the potential impact cognitive decline can have from a mental health standpoint on the aged in China as well as the economic pressure that may put on the country in dealing with the problem.