(NaturalNews) A memory that slips with age and progresses into the dreaded nightmare of dementia is often considered just a part of growing old. But a growing body of evidence shows lifestyle has a huge impact on causing thinking problems in the elderly. Now, new research recently presented in San Diego at The Gerontological Society of America's (GSA) 65th Annual Scientific Meeting shows the air you breathe could be damaging your brain. Living in areas of high air pollution can lead to decreased cognitive function in older adults, according to the study which analyzed data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Retirement Study.
"As a result of age-related declines in health and functioning, older adults are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of exposure to unhealthy air," researcher Jennifer Ailshire, PhD, a National Institute on Aging postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Biodemography and Population Health and the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California, said in a media statement. "Air pollution has been linked to increased cardiovascular and respiratory problems, and even premature death, in older populations, and there is emerging evidence that exposure to particulate air pollution may have adverse effects on brain health and functioning as well."
This is the first study that demonstrates how exposure to air pollution influences cognitive function in a national sample of older men and women. Ailshire concluded that fine air particulate matter (comprised of particles that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller), when inhaled, can deposit deep in the lung and possibly the brain and may be an important environmental risk factor for a reduced ability to think and remember accurately.
The researcher studied data on 14,793 white, black, and Hispanic men and women aged 50 and older who participated in the 2004 Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey of older adults. Then the individual data were linked with data from the 2004 annual average levels of fine air particulate matter collected by the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality System monitors across the country. Cognitive function (which consisted of tests assessing word recall, knowledge, language, and orientation) was measured on a scale of one to 35.
Ailshire discovered that people living in areas where there were high levels of fine air particulate matter scored poorer on the cognitive function tests. The association remained even after accounting for several other risk factors -- such as age, race/ethnicity, education, smoking, and respiratory and cardiovascular disorders.
So just how much of a brain scrambling impact could dirty air really have? It appears that breathing polluted city air could make your thinking processes age more quickly than they would if you breathed clean air. The study found that fine air particulate matter exposures in cities with air pollution ranged from 4.1 to 20.7 micrograms per cubic meter -- and every ten point increase was associated with a 0.36 point drop in cognitive function score, which is roughly equal to aging three years.
The study is more evidence that what we do to our bodies can make a big difference on how well we think and whether or not we avoid dementia. As Natural News previously reported, for example, scientist William B. Grant, PhD, of the Sunlight, Nutrition, and Health Research Center (SUNARC) believes a lack of vitamin D could be the cause of mind-robbing Alzheimer's disease and other vascular dementia. What's more, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered that a combination of naturally occurring nutrients can do what Big Pharma drugs can't -- potentially improve memory in people diagnosed with dementia.
About the author: Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.