In a new study from Yale, researchers found a strong link between long-term ozone exposure and an increased risk of cognitive impairment in older adults.
Air pollution has long been considered a major risk factor for an aging society.
Fine particulate matter floating in increasingly high concentrations around the globe can lead to dementia and other cognitive disabilities, and those affected can easily burden health care systems in areas with populations that skew older.
But beyond airborne particles, little is known about the way in which other pollutants can pose a similar danger.
In this study, the researchers instead chose to focus on ambient ozone, a highly reactive gas that exists in much of smog at ground level.
They then observed health outcomes in nearly 10,000 older adults across China and analyzed the extent to which long-term ozone exposure may have impacted their cognitive ability over time.
The team found for every 10 microgram increase of yearly average ozone exposure, the risk for cognitive impairment grew by more than 10%.
That is, older adults in China who were exposed to high levels of yearly ozone pollution were more likely to develop cognitive disabilities later in life, no matter what other activities they were involved in.
The findings suggest potential benefits in delaying the progression of cognitive decline among older adults if ozone levels are reduced below the new WHO Global Air Quality Guideline for ozone pollution.
The study is the first to establish this link across large swaths of the Chinese population over several years.
Over the past several years, studies have traced a similar link in adults in the United States and in Taiwan, and have also found an association between ozone exposure and other brain diseases.
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The study is published in Environment International. One author of the study is Kai Chen, Ph.D.
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