Air pollution may be more damaging to our health than once thought, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was conducted in China, with a sample size of nearly 32,000 people over the age of 10, between 2010 and 2014. It examined the relationship between cognitive test scores and short-term and long-term exposure to dirty air.
Is air pollution making us dumb? Researchers say yes.
The study found that prolonged exposure to air pollution has a significant impact on our cognitive abilities, which includes things like memory, speech, the ability to learn and the understanding of written material. The research team found that verbal and math scores “decreased with increasing cumulative air pollution exposure.” Researchers said there was a steeper decline in verbal scores than math scores and that the decline was more pronounced among older, less-educated males.
The damage air pollution has on aging brains not only imposes substantial health costs, but economic ones as well, according to study author Xiaobo Zhang, who said, “Cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly to both running daily errands and making high-stakes economic decisions.” Researchers also found that with the decline of cognitive abilities caused by air pollution, there are also potential risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.