Reduced Cognitive Function for Students During Heat Waves

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Cognitive function deficits resulting from indoor thermal conditions during heat waves affect university students.
Cognitive function deficits resulting from indoor thermal conditions during heat waves affect university students.

HealthDay News — Cognitive function deficits resulting from indoor thermal conditions during heat waves affect university students, according to a study published online July 10 in PLOS Medicine.

Jose Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues conducted a prospective observational cohort study to examine the differential impact of having air conditioning (AC) on cognitive function during a heat wave. A total of 44 university students living in AC (24 students) and non-AC (20 students) buildings were followed before, during, and after a heat wave. For a period of 12 days, two cognition tests were self-administered: the Stroop color-word test (STROOP) and a two-digit, visual addition/subtraction test (ADD).

The researchers found that the mean indoor temperatures were significantly higher in the non-AC group than in the AC group. Among non-AC residents relative to AC residents at baseline, difference-in-differences modeling estimates showed an increase in reaction time (STROOP, 13.4 percent; ADD, 13.3 percent) and a reduction in throughput (STROOP, −9.9 percent; ADD, −6.3 percent) during heat waves. ADD showed a linear correlation with indoor temperatures, while a U-shaped curve described STROOP, with linear effects below and above an optimum range (indoor temperature 22 to 23 degrees Celsius), with increased reaction time of 16 and 24 ms/degree Celsius, respectively.

"Our findings highlight the importance of incorporating sustainable adaptation measures in buildings to preserve educational attainment, economic productivity, and safety in light of a changing climate," the authors write.

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