An analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Health and Retirement Study conducted by Jennifer Ailshire, PhD, of the University of Southern California is the first to look at how air quality affects the cognitive function of older men and women. The research focused on data from 14,793 people over the age of 50 and found those living in areas with higher levels of air pollution scored poorer on cognitive function tests even after factoring in age, race, education, smoking, behavior, and cardiovascular condition. According to Ailshire, older adults are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of unhealthy air and there is emerging evidence that exposure may have adverse effects on the brain, as well as heart and respiratory health. More here.
A new study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that, in addition to being bad for the heart, saturated fat is associated with worse cognitive function over time. The research looked at 6,000 women over the age of 65 and found those who ate the most saturated fat, which comes from animal fats such as red meat and butter, had more memory problems and worse cognitive function compared to women who ate the least amount. Also, the women who consumed the most monosaturated fats, such as olive oil, scored better on cognitive tests than those who ate the most saturated fats. Olivia Okereke, MD, MS, of BWH’s Department of Psychiatry, said the total amount of fat intake didn’t matter as much as the type of fat did. According to Okereke, substituting good fat in place of bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent memory decline. More here and here.
Though a healthy diet, regular exercise, and remaining socially active can help preserve cognitive function as we age, some of how our brain ages is determined by genetics. According to a new study published in Nature, about 24 percent of the mental changes that occur as we age are determined by our genes. Ian J. Deary, PhD, researcher and professor of psychology at the University of Edinburgh, said the findings will encourage researchers looking for the genetic and environmental contributions to why some people’s cognitive functions age better than others. The study analyzed genetic material from nearly 2,000 people whose general intelligence was tested at age 11 and again when they were 65, 70, and 79. More here.