Air pollution might be more damaging than originally thought. A new study found that poor air quality causes cognitive impairment especially to the elderly.

Smoke Damages Brain Health

Xin Zhang of Beijing Normal University and Xi Chen of Yale University conducted a massive survey involving about 50,000 people who took standardized tests in 2010 and again in 2014. In order to find a link between poor air quality and a decline in cognitive tests, the researchers recorded time, date, location, and matched tests results to air quality data.

They found that pollution can affect a person's ability to think in both verbal and math tests. However, the damage is more pronounced in older men and in men who had no education beyond primary school.

According to The Economist, one of the lead researchers, Xiaobo Zhang of Peking University, have personally experienced the effects of air pollution to one's cognitive performance. When he returned to China after teaching in the United States, he found it difficult to concentrate whenever Beijing's infamous smog hang over the megacity.

The study also warned about the risks or air pollution and its effect to cognitive performance to the individual and the economy. For example, cognitive decline or impairment is one of the risk factors of dementia in older people. In addition, side effects of poor air quality might impair the ability of the elderly to make the right decisions, especially in a host of complex tasks, including planning their retirement.

The discovery was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

China Hopes For Cleaner Air

Beijing has previously been the barometer for air pollution. For several years, the capital city of China is among the list of places where the air quality became a threat to the residents' well-being.

The problem peaked in 2013, when a set photo was taken showing an almost opaque smog all over the city went viral.

Since then, the government has made major efforts to maintaining clear skies and clean air a priority. Tough anti-pollution measures have been adapted, including the closure of steel processing and plastic factories in Beijing and nearby Tianjin. Building sites and roadworks were also suspended throughout the city.

China is already reaping the fruits of their efforts. The South China Morning Post reported this month that Beijing has achieved record-breaking air quality. Five out of seven lowest monthly pollution readings were recorded this year alone.

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