Exposure to air pollution can disrupt thinking skills in later life, study reveals

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on February 04, 2021

Exposure to air pollution at an early age has a debilitating impact on cognitive skills 60 years later, according to the study carried out by the researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

The researchers of the study tested the general intelligence of over 500 people aged approximately 70 years using a test they had all completed at the age of 11 years. The participants then repeated the same test at the ages of 76 and 79 years.

A record of where each person had lived throughout their life was used to estimate the level of air pollution they had experienced in their early years.

The team then employed statistical models to examine the link between a person’s exposure to air pollution and their thinking skills in later life. They also took other factors into account, including socio-economic status and smoking, among others.

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Findings showed exposure to air pollution in childhood had a small but detectable association with worse cognitive change between the ages of 11 and 70 years. This study shows it is possible to estimate historical air pollution and explore how this relates to cognitive ability throughout life, researchers stated.

Dr Tom Russ, Director of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre, University of Edinburgh, said, “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.”


For this study researchers used a model called the EMEP4UK atmospheric chemistry transport model to determine pollution levels – known as historical fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations – for the years 1935, 1950, 1970, 1980, and 1990.

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They combined these historical findings with contemporary modeled data from 2001 to estimate life course exposure.

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

Published on February 04, 2021

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