Childhood exposure to air pollution affects cognitive skills later in life. Exposure to air pollution in childhood has a detrimental impact on cognitive ability later in life, according to a new study from the University of Edinburgh. The researchers found that people who are exposed to air pollution as children may experience negative changes in their thinking skills up to 60 years later.
The study was focused on the general intelligence of more than 500 individuals who participated in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 study.
The experts based the analysis on tests that had been conducted when the participants were 11 years old. The individuals repeated the same test at the ages of 76 and 79.
To estimate pollution levels in early childhood, the researchers analyzed records of where the participants lived throughout their lives.
The experts used statistical models to investigate the relationship between a person’s exposure to air pollution and their thinking skills in later life. The study also accounted for relevant lifestyle factors, including socioeconomic status and smoking.
The analysis revealed that exposure to air pollution in childhood had a distinguishable association with negative cognitive changes between the ages of 11 and 70.
According to the researchers, the study shows that it is possible to estimate historical air pollution and explore how this relates to cognitive ability throughout life. They explained that these types of studies were previously limited by a lack of data on air pollution levels before the 1990s.
Dr. Tom Russ is the director of the Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh.
“For the first time we have shown the effect that exposure to air pollution very early in life could have on the brain many decades later,” said Dr. Russ. “This is the first step towards understanding the harmful effects of air pollution on the brain and could help reduce the risk of dementia for future generations.”
The researchers have been working with the Lothian Birth Cohorts since 1999 to chart how an individual’s thinking skills change over the course of their lifetime.
The study is published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer