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Environmental lead exposure and cognitive function in community-dwelling older adults *

Objective: To determine if long-term exposure to high levels of lead in the environment is associated with decrements in cognitive ability in older Americans.

Methods: We completed a cross-sectional analysis using multiple linear regression to evaluate associations of recent (in blood) and cumulative (in tibia) lead dose with cognitive function in 991 sociodemographically diverse, community-dwelling adults, aged 50 to 70 years, randomly selected from 65 contiguous neighborhoods in Baltimore, MD. Tibia lead was measured with 109Cd induced K-shell X-ray fluorescence. Seven summary measures of cognitive function were created based on standard tests in these domains: language, processing speed, eye-hand coordination, executive functioning, verbal memory and learning, visual memory, and visuoconstruction.

Results: The mean (SD) blood lead level was 3.5 (2.2) µg/dL and tibia lead level was 18.7 (11.2) µg/g. Higher tibia lead levels were consistently associated with worse cognitive function in all seven domains after adjusting for age, sex, APOE-4, and testing technician (six domains p  0.01, one domain p  0.05). Blood lead was not associated with any cognitive domain. Associations with tibia lead were attenuated after adjustment for years of education, wealth, and race/ethnicity.

Conclusions: Independent of recent lead dose, retained cumulative dose resulting from previous environmental exposures may have persistent effects on cognitive function. A portion of age-related decrements in cognitive function in this population may be associated with earlier lead exposure.


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As with any procedure, there could be pain or other substantial risks involved. These concerns should be discussed with your health care provider prior to any treatment so that you have proper informed consent and understand that there are no guarantees to healing.

THE INFORMATION IN THIS WEBSITE IS OFFERED FOR GENERAL EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT IMPLY OR GIVE MEDICAL ADVICE. No Doctor/Patient relationship shall be deemed to have arisen simply by reading the information contained on these pages, and you should consult with your personal physician/care giver regarding your medical treatment before undergoing any sort of treatment or therapy.

Published on 08-18-2009
Authors: R. A. Shih, PhD, T. A. Glass, PhD, K. Bandeen-Roche, PhD, M. C. Carlson, PhD, K. I. Bolla, PhD, A. C. Todd, PhD and B. S. Schwartz, MD, MS
Source: NEUROLOGY 2006;67:1556-1562