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Mental Decline from Lead Exposure

A recent study suggests cognitive dementia in some older adults may be a result of exposure to high levels of lead before the 1980s. The study, published in the online edition of Neurology, reviewed 985 adults randomly selected throughout the city of Baltimore, Maryland.

The participants were between the ages of 50 and 70 years old and had been exposed to higher levels of lead prior to the 1980s when lead had been used extensively in commercial products.

In determining the association between high levels of lead and lower cognitive performance, researchers tested the amount of lead in the tibia, or shinbone, since lead accumulates in bone. Participants also performed 20 cognitive tests to measure language, processing speed, eye-hand coordination, executive functioning, verbal memory and learning, and visual memory.

The study found higher tibia lead levels were consistently associated with worse cognitive performance on tests.

“The analysis showed the effect of community lead exposure was equivalent to two to six years of aging,” said principal investigator Brian Schwartz, MD, with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “If lead is associated with lower cognitive performance, this may suggest possible treatment and prevention options for older adults.”

In addition, the study found tibia lead levels were significantly higher in African Americans compared to Caucasians.

Researchers say the difference likely represents the long-term higher environmental lead exposures sustained by African Americans in the United States, but could also be due to different bone mineral densities in African Americans compared to Caucasians.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Mental Decline from Lead Exposure

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Mental Decline from Lead Exposure. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 16, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2006/09/13/mental-decline-from-lead-exposure/264.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.