Gender Difference in the Effects of Outdoor Air Pollution on Cognitive Function Among Elderly in Korea

Hyunmin Kim, Juhwan Noh, Young Noh, Sung Soo Oh, Sang Baek Koh, Changsoo Kim

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Background/Aim: Given a fast-growing aging population in South Korea, the prevalence of cognitive impairment in elderly is increasing. Despite growing evidence of air pollution exposure as one of the risk factors for declining cognition, few studies have been conducted on gender difference in the relation of cognitive function associated with outdoor air pollution. The aim of this study is to investigate the effect modification of gender difference in the association between cognitive function and air pollutant exposure (PM10, PM2.5−10, and NO2). Methods: The study focused on elderly, and the resulting sample included 1,484 participants aged 55 and older with no neurologic diseases, recruited from the four regions in Korea (Seoul, Incheon, Pyeongchang, and Wonju). We used the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) score (with the conventional cut-off point “23–24”) to assess cognitive decline as the primary outcome of the study. Air pollution data used in this study were based on the 5-year average of predicted PM10 and NO2 concentrations, as well as the 2015 average PM2.5 concentration. Additionally, a survey questionnaire was utilized to obtain information about general health assessment. To explore gender differences in the effects of air pollution exposure on cognitive function, we used penalized logistic regression, negative binomial regression, and generalized linear mixed model analyses. Subgroup analyses were also performed by the geographic location of residence (metropolitan vs. non-metropolitan). Results: We found that women than men had a higher risk for decreased cognitive function associated with increased exposure to PM10 and PM2.5−10, respectively, even after adjustments for confounding factors (OR 1.01 [95%CI 1.00-1.03] in PM10; OR 1.03 [95%CI 1.01–1.07] in PM2.5−10). After stratification by metropolitan status, we also found that the adverse effect of NO2 exposure on cognitive function was higher in women than men [OR 1.02 [95%CI 1.00–1.05] in metropolitan; OR 1.12 [95%CI 1.04–1.20] in non-metropolitan]. Notably, the magnitude of the effect sizes was greater among those in non-metropolitan regions than metropolitan ones. Conclusions: Although our findings suggest that the adverse effects of outdoor air pollution on cognitive function appeared to be higher in women than men, this should be tentatively reflected due to some limitations in our results. While additional research is warranted to confirm or dispute our results, our findings suggest an indication of the need for developing and implementing prevention or interventions with a focus on elderly women with increased risk for air pollution exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number375
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Dec 10

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2019 Kim, Noh, Noh, Oh, Koh and Kim.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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