Air pollution could cause memory problems

By Shayna Brouker • Published: March 21st, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

What was that person’s name you just met? Where are the car keys? You might just be having another senior moment … or you might be able to blame it on the air. That’s right, new research shows that air pollution could cause lapses in memory in older adults.

Research has shown that pollution causes developmental delays in children, but the effect seems to span generations. The study looked at memory test results of more than 15,000 men and women over the age of 50. The researchers then compared the results with the E-P-A’s annual average level of fine air particulate matter. Every 10-point increase in air pollution exposure was connected to a one-third point drop in the memory test score. Although that doesn’t sound like a lot, it actually equates to three years in aging.

Air pollution cause problems when the particles are inhaled into the lungs and even the brain. It’s especially aggravating to those with heart and lung disease, who often require hospital and emergency room visits even after just short-term exposures of 24 hours or less. Exposure of a year or more can lead to respiratory disease.

The 10 most polluted cities in 2012 were Bakersfield, Hanford, Los Angeles, Visalia and Fresno in California, as well as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville and Philadelphia. The good news is that if you live in one of these contaminated locales, there are a few things you can do to reduce your exposure. Don’t exercise outdoors and limit exertion when pollution levels are high. Drive with the air-recirculating button on when commuting. Fit your home with filters to reduce particles inside, too. Limiting the use of wood-burning stoves, fireplaces and candles can keep air cleaner, too. A little foresight and planning can keep your lungs, heart and brain pollution-free.