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Lead Exposure Affects Mental Acuity With Age

Despite all the work that's already been done to rid our homes and cars of lead, its harmful effects still show up prominently in our environment. That long-term exposure is likely related to the results of new study of some 450 older men that found exposure to lead in the environment over a lifetime may contribute to mental decline as people age. In fact, those with higher lead levels in their bones at the study's start showed a steeper decline on a standard test of mental acuity over time.

Researchers used a special x-ray technique to measure study participants' lead levels in bone, an indicator of cumulative lead exposure as well as their performance on a standard test of memory, attention, language and other mental functions. The tests were given twice, with an average of 3.5 years in between.

The higher the men's lead levels in the kneecap were at the beginning of the study, the greater the decline in their test scores over time. That makes sense because, when one is exposed to lead, part of it is laid down in the bones where it remains for the long term, researchers explain.

Just a single increase of only 20 micrograms of lead per gram of bone mineral translated to a quarter-point loss on a man's mental test score over time, with factors such as age, education and alcohol intake taken into account, according to the study.

Yahoo News January 7, 2005

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