Air Pollution, Aging, and Cognitive Impairment
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Age-related cognitive impairment (CI) is a common health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. With population aging on the rise, CI will affect millions more. CI and dementia causality is multifactorial. Known causal factors include genetics, age, and sex. Recently, toxicological and epidemiological studies have implicated air pollution in the causation of these conditions. Air pollution is a well-known environmental hazard with millions of people exposed to high concentrations of air pollutants every day. Exposure to air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOC), fine particles (PM2.5), and ozone (O3) can lead to chronic oxidative stress (OS), which is involved in the pathogenesis of CI and dementia. We reviewed the existing literature regarding the association among air pollutants, OS, and CI. Then, we implemented two epidemiological studies--using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey (BRFSS) 2011--to explore the association between exposure to VOC, PM2.5, and O3; and, CI. After adjusting for demographic and health characteristics, results showed an inverse association between serum VOC and neurobehavioral functioning (p < 0.05). Similarly, we found a significant association between exposure to PM2.5, and O3, and self-reported CI (p < 0.05). These results indicated that air pollution combined with population aging could act synergistically on increasing the burden CI and dementia at the population level. Further research with larger sample size, longitudinal design, and objective exposure and outcome assessments is needed to identify modifiable risk factors for dementia and orient public health efforts.