not only harms the heart and lungs, a new study indicates it affects the brain so much that people, especially the elderly, could struggle for words or complete simple math sums.

Long-term exposure to air pollution, in other words, severely affects cognition skills, according to the study jointly done by Yale and Peking Universities and published in the reputed Proceedings of National Academy of Science (PNAS) journal.

“The PNAS study found significant reduction in verbal and math skills of people exposed to air pollution over a long duration of time,’’ said a release sent by Washington-based that conducted the study along with Yale and Peking universities. “The effect was more pronounced among men than women–and worst among the elderly,” it added.

Nearly 32,000 Chinese were surveyed between 2010 and 2014 and their short- and long-term exposure to air pollution was calculated. One of the main authors, Xiaobo Zhang , said the decline was steeper for verbal scores than math scores. Among males, the decline in verbal scores became more pronounced with age, and was greater in those who were less educated.

The Chinese study’s findings could hold true for India as well where roughly 25 lakh people died in 2015 due to causes arising out of air pollution. Sunil Dahiya, Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace India said the impact of air pollution in China are comparable to India. “The trajectory of development for both China and India are similar and hence are the levels and sources of pollution. So, even if the magnitude of impact might vary for both countries, there could be a similar impact on health,” said Dahiya.

Dr Sundeep Salvi of Punebased Chest Research Foundation said he isn’t surprised that air pollution affects cognitive skills. “An American study last year that showed a correlation between the brain size of elderly women and the levels of pollution in their areas. More the pollution, higher and faster is the shrinkage of the brain,” he added.

Mumbai-based pulmonologist Sanjay Mehta said that cognitive damage due to air pollution has been suspected for long. “What is really worrying is air pollution’s long-term damages such as cancer. Lungs of children exposed to pollution become shrunken and damaged, with these children suffering from diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or asthma early on,” he said.

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