Association of Childhood Lead Exposure with Late Life Cognition and Psychological Outcomes

John R. Warren, University of Minnesota
Joseph Ferrie, Northwestern University
Mark Lee, University of Minnesota

There is a clear association between low-level lead exposure and poor cognitive and psychological outcomes. Recent research has documented that this link is longitudinal with early exposure predicting traits in adulthood. However, the existing evidence on the persistent effects of lead is limited by small sample sizes, few outcomes, and a follow-up period ending in mid-adulthood. We build on this burgeoning research by investigating the association between childhood lead exposure and late life cognition and psychological traits in a large cohort study. Our data come from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, a prospective survey following a sample of the 1957 Wisconsin high school graduating class and their siblings. Over 8,000 WLS participants were linked to their household records in the 1940 U.S. Census. Then we used data about municipal water sources from that era to proxy lead exposure. Water with a low PH flowing through lead pipes is known to contain higher levels of lead, and drinking water is a key source of blood lead contamination. First, we will validate our measure of lead exposure by showing its association with adolescent IQ, which bears a strong relationship in previous research. Next, we will estimate the effect of early life lead exposure on several cognitive and psychological outcomes measured in 2011 when the participants were in their early seventies. Our dependent variables will include depressed mood, personality, letter fluency, digit ordering, and word recall. We will use hierarchical linear models to account for the clustering of individuals within families and cities. Rich data from the WLS allow us to adjust our models for family background, which may confound our results. We can also examine whether the effect of lead exposure differs by sex. This study will add crucial evidence regarding whether the impact of early lead exposure persists across the life span.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 263. Geography, Age and Health