The Sneaky Air Menace That Can Age Your Brain Faster Than Time

Is your memory weighing on your mind more as you get older? Maybe dementia runs in your family, or you’ve noticed yourself forgetting names and appointments more than you used to. Whatever’s motivating you to think about your memory more, you’ve probably already hatched a plan to protect it as much as you can. Mediterranean diet, daily power walks, and a Sudoku book on your nightstand might all be part of your plan.

But there’s another factor influencing your memory, one you probably haven’t considered yet – the air you breathe.

Air Pollution Annihilates Memories

Researchers at the University of Warwick found that people living in areas with more air pollution have worse memories. The study included 34,000 people randomly selected from across England, who were asked to participate in a word-recall test by memorizing ten words. After factoring in other things that influence memory (age, health, education, ethnicity, employment, etc.), researchers found that people residing in areas with a lot of air pollution had worse memories than those living in cleaner locations.

In fact, people in the most polluted areas had memory loss that was equivalent to ten years of extra aging. So, a 50-year-old in one of the most polluted areas would have the same memory skills as a 60-year-old in one of the least polluted areas.

Past studies also found connections between air pollution and memory, showing that people living in areas where air pollution is extremely high are 80 to 90% more likely to develop cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

Take Action Against Air Pollution to Save Your Memory

To protect your memory, pay attention to air pollution in your area. In the United States, you can check the current Air Quality Index (AQI) through the federal government’s website, AirNow. The World’s Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index also offers an opportunity to search AQI throughout the world and by different types of pollutants. Remember to look at archived data as well to get a more accurate picture of your area’s overall air quality.

If air quality is an issue where you live, consider how it affects your life and make necessary changes. If you’re near retirement age or already retired, a move to a more rural location (with better air quality) may be a viable option.

Additionally, stay informed about the air quality in your area by signing up for email alerts or downloading an app through AirNow. When the air quality is poor, avoid strenuous outdoor activities and tasks that require you to be outside for hours, such as yard work or jogging, as these can increase the amount of air pollutants you breathe in and potentially impair your memory.