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Extreme Heat Can Cause Cognitive Decline – Study Shows

wet-bulb temperature

Extreme Heat can affect a person’s cognitive abilities, with older segments of the population suffering the most. This is according to the results of a 12-year-long study into the matter published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The study asserts that extreme heat exposure can disproportionately undermine cognitive health in later life for socially vulnerable populations. “Our findings underscore the need for policy actions to identify and support high-risk communities for increasingly warming temperatures,” said the authors.

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This means that people could have problems with memory and dealing with complex issues when it gets really hot out there.

Professor Virginia Chang, from the NYU School of Global Public Health and leader of the research team said, “Cognitive decline may not manifest immediately after a single heat event, but repeated or prolonged exposures to extreme heat may be harmful. Cumulative exposure to extreme heat may trigger a chain of brain reactions including cellular damage, inflammation and oxidative stress, all of which may eliminate a person’s cognitive reserve.”

There is also a clear link between wealth and suffering from the effects of extreme heat, obviously. If you have money then all those high electric bills from keeping the air conditioning blasting day and night throughout the summer are easy to pay. And, of course, if you have money then you can pay for vacations to cooler places and you probably have a swimming pool in your backyard.

The researchers found that high exposure to extreme heat was associated with faster cognitive decline for blacks and residents of poor neighborhoods, but not for whites, Hispanics, or residents of wealthier neighborhoods.

Professor Hannah Lee, a sociologist from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, is one of the study’s co-authors. She said, “Affluent neighborhoods have resources that can help in a heat wave – things like well-maintained green spaces, air conditioning and cooling centers. In disadvantaged neighborhoods, these resources may not exist. Other factors associated with disadvantaged neighborhoods – residents who experience chronic stress, greater social isolation and fewer specialized services for cognitive health – can also contribute to this gap.”

The news comes as worldwide heatwaves are increasing. Forget about Global Warming. The term “global boiling” is the new metaphor used to describe the increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves and other extreme weather events caused by climate change. The term was coined by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres in July 2023, after scientists confirmed that July was on track to be the world’s hottest month on record.

The concept of global boiling is based on the idea that as the Earth’s atmosphere warms, it will be able to hold more water vapor. This means that when the atmosphere does reach saturation, the amount of water vapor that condenses and falls as rain or snow will be less than it would be in a cooler atmosphere. This will lead to more frequent and intense heat waves, as well as droughts and wildfires.

So, people already had plenty to worry about from dehydration and heatstroke. And now they also need to worry about how the heat affects their brain functions.



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