Beijing, Aug 28: Besides harming physical health, long-term exposure to air pollution can also affect cognitive skills, especially in elderly men, claims a study.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided evidence that verbal and math scores “decreased with increasing cumulative air pollution exposure”.
This decline — a potential risk factor in developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia — becomes more pronounced as people age, especially for men and the less educated.
“The damage on the ageing brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions,” said researchers including Xin Zhang from Beijing Normal University.
The team examined cognitive test scores of nearly 32,000 people between 2010 and 2014 against their exposure to short and long-term air pollution.
While the study adds to the already numerous health concerns regarding air pollution including damage to the heart and kidneys, it will be of particular concern to developing nations whose smoggy cities could be hampering national economic development, CNN reported.
“The damage on cognitive ability by air pollution also likely impedes the development of human capital. Therefore, a narrow focus on the negative effect on health may underestimate the total cost of air pollution,” Zhang said.
“Our findings on the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition imply that the indirect effect of pollution on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of every 10 people on the planet breathe air containing a high level of pollutants, with the worst affected regions being Africa and Asia.
A recent study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, showed that if air pollution were removed as a risk for death, people in the world could live at least a year longer and in India, which is battling severe air pollution, the benefit would be even more — about 1.5 years.