The human memory could age by an extra 10 years after being exposed to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM10).
This was the conclusion of a groundbreaking study undertaken by researchers from the University of Warwick, which adds to a growing body of evidence that air pollution is having a significant impact on human’s cognitive functions.
For the study, 34,000 English citizens from 318 local authority areas with varying levels of air pollution were randomly selected and then asked to remember 10 words in a word recall test.
The analysis was adjusted for a large number of other variables that could affect people’s memory, including people’s age, health, level of education, ethnicity, and family and employment status.
They found that when trying to remember a string of words, a 50-year-old in a polluted part of Chelsea performs like a 60-year-old in Plymouth, which has much cleaner air.
However, the researchers concluded that the methodology was ‘admittedly simple’ said they were still not exactly sure how pollutants influence memory. They called the findings ‘concerning’ and said they were consistent with similar tests on lab rats.
Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee, who led the research with Professor Andrew Oswald, said: ‘There is a little prior evidence of a negative association between levels of traffic pollution and memory using data on elderly individuals and in children,
‘But almost all research in human studies on this topic has been based on elementary correlations and not on nationally representative samples of individuals in a country. We have tried to solve these two problems in our study.’
Earlier this month, the first global study of its kind has found a ‘clear link’ between exposure to air pollution and developing dementia later in life.
In the UK, deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer disease continued to increase and are the country’s leading cause of death, accounting for 12.8% of all deaths registered in 2018.
The paper ‘Is there a link between air pollution and impaired memory? Evidence on 34,000 English citizens’ is available to read here.
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