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Neuroepidemiology. 1996;15(2):62-72.

Effects of blood lead levels on cognitive function of older women.

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  • 1University of Pittsburgh, Pa., USA.


Elevated blood lead concentrations are known to have detrimental effects on neuropsychological function in both children and occupational cohorts of men and women. Although it is generally accepted that lead exposure at low levels is more dangerous for infants and children than for adults, the issue of the lowest level of exposure at which lead causes deleterious health effects in adults is yet to be solved. There is no available data on the role of lead exposure in cognitive dysfunction in nonoccupational cohorts of older persons. In the current study, we examined the cross-sectional relationship between blood lead levels and a variety of measures of neuropsychological function in a large cohort of elderly women recruited at both urban and rural sites. This study of elderly women demonstrates that blood lead levels as low as 8 micrograms/dl were significantly associated with poorer cognitive function as measured by certain neuropsychological tests. Even a slight decrement in cognition would have a large public health impact due to the large number of elderly at risk.

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