Fine particulate matter air pollution and cognitive function among older US adults

Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Aug 15;180(4):359-66. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwu155. Epub 2014 Jun 24.


Existing research on the adverse health effects of exposure to pollution has devoted relatively little attention to the potential impact of ambient air pollution on cognitive function in older adults. We examined the cross-sectional association between residential concentrations of particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 μm or less (PM2.5) and cognitive function in older adults. Using hierarchical linear modeling, we analyzed data from the 2004 Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative sample of US adults aged 50 years or older. We linked participant data with 2000 US Census tract data and 2004 census tract-level annual average PM2.5 concentrations. Older adults living in areas with higher PM2.5 concentrations had worse cognitive function (β = -0.26, 95% confidence interval: -0.47, -0.05) even after adjustment for community- and individual-level social and economic characteristics. Results suggest that the association is strongest for the episodic memory component of cognitive function. This study adds to a growing body of research highlighting the importance of air pollution to cognitive function in older adults. Improving air quality in large metropolitan areas, where much of the aging US population resides, may be an important mechanism for reducing age-related cognitive decline.

Keywords: air pollution; cognitive function; communities; health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Urban Population / statistics & numerical data


  • Particulate Matter