The invisible factor that ages your memory an extra 10 years

Is your memory weighing on your mind more as you get older?

Maybe dementia runs in your family. Maybe you’ve noticed yourself forgetting names and appointments more than you used to. Or maybe you’re just aware that most people’s memories get worse with age… and you don’t want yours to… period.

Whatever’s motivating you to think about your memory more, you’ve probably already hatched a plan to protect your memory as much as you can in these critical years. Mediterranean diet? Check. Daily power walks? Check. Sudoku book on your nightstand? Check.

But there’s another factor influencing your memory, one you probably don’t realize you need to protect yourself against.

It’s not something you can see. In fact, it’s as imperceptible as the air you breathe…. because it is the air you breathe.

Air pollution annihilates memories

A new study from researchers at the University of Warwick found that people living in areas with more air pollution have worse memories.

The study included 34,000 people randomly selected from across England. Everyone was asked to participate in a word-recall test where they were asked to memorize 10 words. And guess what?

After factoring in all sorts of other things that influence memory (age, health, education, ethnicity, employment, etc.), people who lived in areas with a lot of air pollution had worse memories than people who lived where the air was cleaner. In fact, people in the most polluted areas had memory loss that was equivalent to 10 years of extra aging.

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So, a 50-year-old in one of the most polluted areas had the same memory skills as a 60-year-old in one of the least polluted areas. Yikes!

The connection between air pollution and memory was proven in previous studies on rats, children and older adults too. Heck, there have even been studies showing that people who live in areas where air pollution is extremely high are 80 to 90 percent more likely to develop cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s. This is, however, the first time it’s been proven in a nationally representative (read: all ages) sample of people.

Take action against air pollution to save your memory

If you’re serious about protecting your memory, you may want to consider how the air pollution in your area is affecting you.

If you’re based in the U.S., the federal government’s website AirNow can tell you the current Air Quality Index where you live. There’s also the World’s Air Pollution: Real-time Air Quality Index, where you can check the air quality index throughout the world and search by different types of air pollutants.

Of course, air quality can be bad one day and better the next. So, you’ll want to look at archived air quality data for your area to get the bigger picture of the air quality where you live.

What if you don’t like what you find out?

Pack your bags! Just kidding. I know moving is a big decision. But if you’re near retirement age or already retired, a move somewhere more rural (with better air quality) may be something to consider.

If you plan to stay put, however, there are still actions you can take to protect yourself from the negative effects of air pollution. First, keep on top of air quality in your area. You can even sign up for emails that let you know when air quality is going to be bad where you live through AirNow’s  EnviroFlash program. You can also download AirNow’s air quality app on your phone

When air quality is bad, you’ll want to avoid two types of activity:

  • An activity where you’ll be outside for hours, like yardwork
  • An activity that makes you breathe hard when you’re outside, like jogging

These activities increase the amount of air pollutants you breathe in…which means they increase the odds of air pollution impairing your memory.

Editor’s note: While you’re doing all the right things to protect your brain as you age, make sure you don’t make the mistake 38 million Americans do every day — by taking a drug that robs them of an essential brain nutrient! Click here to discover the truth about the Cholesterol Super-Brain!


  1. Memory is damaged by air pollution, researchers find — MedicalXpress
  2. Air Quality Index – A Guide to Air Quality and Your Health — AirNow
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and