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Indoor air pollution and cognitive function among older Mexican adults
  1. Joseph L Saenz1,
  2. Rebeca Wong2,
  3. Jennifer A Ailshire1
  1. 1 Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, USA
  2. 2 Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joseph L Saenz, Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089, USA; saenzj{at}


Background A growing body of research suggests exposure to high levels of outdoor air pollution may negatively affect cognitive functioning in older adults, but less is known about the link between indoor sources of air pollution and cognitive functioning. We examine the association between exposure to indoor air pollution and cognitive function among older adults in Mexico, a developing country where combustion of biomass for domestic energy remains common.

Method Data come from the 2012 Wave of the Mexican Health and Aging Study. The analytic sample consists of 13 023 Mexican adults over age 50. Indoor air pollution is assessed by the reported use of wood or coal as the household’s primary cooking fuel. Cognitive function is measured with assessments of verbal learning, verbal recall, attention, orientation and verbal fluency. Ordinary least squares regression is used to examine cross-sectional differences in cognitive function according to indoor air pollution exposure while accounting for demographic, household, health and economic characteristics.

Results Approximately 16% of the sample reported using wood or coal as their primary cooking fuel, but this was far more common among those residing in the most rural areas (53%). Exposure to indoor air pollution was associated with poorer cognitive performance across all assessments, with the exception of verbal recall, even in fully adjusted models.

Conclusions Indoor air pollution may be an important factor for the cognitive health of older Mexican adults. Public health efforts should continue to develop interventions to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution in rural Mexico.

  • Mexico
  • cognition
  • indoor air pollution
  • ageing

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  • Contributors All authors have contributed to the background, methodological and theoretical aspects of the manuscript.

  • Funding This study was conducted with the support of the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging grants (T32AG000037, P30AG043073, R01AG018016 and R00AG039528). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The study was approved by the Institutional Review Boards or Ethics Committees of the University of Texas Medical Branch in the USA, the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia (INEGI) and the Instituto Nacional de Salud Publica (INSP) in Mexico.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.