Does air pollution affect mental health later in life?

In a study of women aged 80 years and older, living in locations with higher exposures to air pollution was associated with increased depressive symptoms. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

When looking at individual air pollutants, a team led by investigators from of the University of Southern California found that long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide or fine particulate air pollution was associated with increased depressive symptoms, but with only a small effect. Results also suggested that depressive symptoms might play a role in linking long-term air pollution exposure to memory decline more than 10 years after the exposure.

“This is the first study showing how air pollution exposures affect depressive symptoms as well as the interrelationship between the symptoms and subsequent memory decline that had not been found in older people aged less than 80 years,” said lead author Andrew Petkus, PhD.

Senior author Jiu-Chiuan Chen, MD, ScD, added, “We know late-life exposures to ambient air pollutants accelerate brain aging and increase the dementia risk, but our new findings suggest the oldest-old populations may respond to air pollution neurotoxicity in a different way that needs to be investigated further.”

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