If you are interested in volunteering to be a participant in this study, please contact Dr. Brian Moench at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Details about the study and what will be required of participants is below.
The title of this study is “Acute Air Quality, Biomarkers, and Cognition in the Elderly.” The purpose is to look at the impact of Utah’s Wintertime ‘Inversions’ on attention and other thinking skills, and also see whether certain biochemicals play an important role. This study is being run by Dustin Hammers, Ph.D., ABPP-CN, a clinical neuropsychologist from the University of Utah’s Department of Neurology, with funding from both the University of Utah’s Center on Aging and the University of Utah’s Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society. He is also a member of Utah Physcians for a Healthy Environment. At the current time, little is known about how air pollution impacts cognitive or thinking skills, and even less is known for areas that have short periods of poor air like those that occur in Utah over the winter.
Research shows that the thinking skills of attention and problem solving may be affected by living in locations with consistently poor air quality. Additionally, ‘protective’ factors in the brain (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor) are reduced during times of poor air quality, while ‘warning’ biochemicals (C Reactive protein and Interleukin 1b) that show harm are known to increase during times of poor air quality. This study will help us understand if these effects are seen in places that experience short, but intense, periods of poor air quality, like we see during Utah’s Inversions.
45 non-demented individuals with varying levels of cognition (normal cognition to mild Mild Cognitive Impairment) are invited to take part in this study, provided that they are 65 years of age or older and live in Northern Utah throughout the winter season below 5600 feet of elevation. Recruitment is currently ongoing for baseline assessments starting this fall, and is open to individuals of any gender and ethnicity.
Exclusion criteria would include: being under the age of 65, active smoking, or being diagnosed with asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, stroke, other neurological disorder that would likely affect cognition (such as seizure disorder or demyelinating disorder), head injury with loss of consciousness of >30 minutes, current or past major psychiatric illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder), substance abuse, diabetes or chronic autoimmune or rheumatological disease (other than mild osteoarthritis).
Participants will go through a brief screening over the telephone to make sure that they are eligible for the current study. They will then be scheduled for a series of three appointments over an 8-month period, as described below.
1. A 2-hour baseline appointment will be scheduled in the Fall during good air quality months. At this in-person appointment, the participant will first be asked to read and sign a consent form. This appointment will include testing of memory and other thinking skills, paperwork about medications, health, and mood. Immediately following these tests and questionnaires, they will have a blood draw of about 2-3 tsp of blood (1-2 vials) to measure the ‘protective’ and ‘warning’ biochemicals (Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, C-Reactive Protein, and Interleukin 1b) present in their blood at that time. Each night during the week prior to their appointment, they will be asked to answer questions in a diary related to the amount of time (and types of activities) that they spent outdoors recently.
2. The second appointment will be scheduled during a period of reduced air quality (sometime during December through February). This 2-hour in-person appointment will be exactly like the one before, with testing of your memory and other thinking skills, and paperwork about medications, health, and mood. Another blood draw of about 2-3 tsp of blood will be taken to look at the same ‘protective’ and ‘warning’ biochemicals as before. Once again, each night during the weeks prior to the appointment, they will be asked to answer questions in a diary related to the amount of time (and types of activities) that they spent outdoors recently.
3. A final appointment will be scheduled in the Late Spring, about 3-5 months after the previous appointment. This 2-hour in-person appointment will be exactly like the two appointments before, testing of memory and other thinking skills, and paperwork about medications, health, and mood. A final blood draw of about 2-3 tsp of blood will be taken to look at the same ‘protective’ and ‘warning’ biochemicals as before. The participant will again be asked to complete a diary about their outdoor exposure each night during the week prior to their appointment.
Participants will be asked to have some flexibility in scheduling their Winter appointment, as it is hard to predict the onset of poor air quality. As a result, we may need to schedule with limited advanced notice.
Participants will be compensated for their time, with a proposed $65 payment for approximately 7 hours of research involvement.
Hypothesis #1: It is hypothesized that cognitive abilities (working memory and executive functioning) will worsen when air quality is poorer, as measured by Particulate Matter 2.5, after controlling for other variables that affect cognition (e.g., age, education) using multiple regression analyses.
Hypothesis #2: It is hypothesized that Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor levels will decline and serum C-Reactive Protein and Interleukin 1b levels will rise when air quality is poorer, after controlling for other variables that affect cognition using multiple regression analyses; these changes are expected to mediate the relationship between air pollution levels and working memory.
If successful, these results will have a direct impact for the community, as it will provide preliminary information about the impact of acute poor air quality on cognition for Utah’s elderly, including examining dose-relationships between air quality and reduced cognition/inflammatory markers, and will help guide regulators and policy makers in the state regarding future air quality decisions.