Air pollution damages brain, impedes verbal and math cognition: Study

PHOTO: Reuters

A recent study by a research team from the Yale School of Public Health showed that exposure to air pollution impedes one's cognitive ability as a person gets older.

Xin Zhang, Xi Chen, and Xiaobo Zhang - the researchers - aim to fill a gap in knowledge where air pollution and its effects to human health is concerned.

While there have been numerous studies on air pollution's effects on life expectancy, illness and hospitalizion, child health and health behaviour, there is still a literature gap when it comes to its profound effect on cognitive abilities.

The team's study was published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America journal (PNAS) just last Aug. 27. The researchers made use of a nationally representative survey of Chinese families which showed their cognitive test scores on verbal and math aptitude. These were then matched with local quality data based on the exact dates and locations the interviews were conducted.

"We find that long-term exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and math tests," the study stated.

"We find that air pollution impairs verbal tests, and the effect becomes stronger as people age, especially for less educated men," it read. "Cognitive decline or impairment are risk factors of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia for elderly persons."

"Our findings about the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition, particularly on the aging brain, imply that the indirect effect on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought."