Geriatric health, lungs adversely affected by air pollution

Elderly individuals living in highly polluted areas of the USA have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood compared with their counterparts who live in less-polluted regions, indicate the results of a study.

Furthermore, the lung function of these smog-affected geriatrics is reduced compared with their clean-aired peers, report the researchers who presented their findings at the Gerontological Society of America's 65th Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego, California, USA.

"As a result of age-related declines in health and functioning, older adults are particularly vulnerable to the hazards of exposure to unhealthy air," said Jennifer Ailshire (University of Southern California) in a statement to the media.

"Air pollution has been linked to increased cardiovascular and respiratory problems, and even premature death, in older populations, and there is emerging evidence that exposure to particulate air pollution may have adverse effects on brain health and functioning as well," she added.

The results also support growing evidence of a link between fine air particulate matter and inflammation, note Ailshire and colleagues.

The team used data for approximately 4000 non-Hispanic Black and White participants of the 2006 Health and Retirement Study - a nationally representative cohort - aged 60 years and above.

Participants' C-reactive protein (CRP) levels in dried blood spots were measured to evaluate the presence of inflammation, and their lung function was analyzed using a puff test. The researchers compared the results of these tests with national data recorded by the US Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality System monitors in 2004.

After adjusting results for potential confounding factors including race, education level, smoking status, and body mass index, Ailshire and co-investigators found higher CRP levels in individuals living in more polluted areas.

In addition, those living in the most polluted areas of the USA had reduced lung function compared with those living elsewhere, even after adjustment for confounding individual characteristics.

"There are only a few existing studies of the link between air pollution and inflammation among older US adults," remarks the research team, adding that studies tend to focus on specific communities and therefore may not be generalizable to broader populations, in contrast to the current research.

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