Acute and Chronic Altitude-Induced Cognitive Dysfunction in Children and Adolescents

Stefano F. Rimoldi, Emrush Rexhaj, Hervé Duplain, Sébastien Urben, Joël Billieux, Yves Allemann, Catherine Romero, Alejandro Ayaviri, Carlos Salinas, Mercedes Villena, Urs Scherrer, Claudio Sartori

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Objective To assess whether exposure to high altitude induces cognitive dysfunction in young healthy European children and adolescents during acute, short-term exposure to an altitude of 3450 m and in an age-matched European population permanently living at this altitude. Study design We tested executive function (inhibition, shifting, and working memory), memory (verbal, short-term visuospatial, and verbal episodic memory), and speed processing ability in: (1) 48 healthy nonacclimatized European children and adolescents, 24 hours after arrival at high altitude and 3 months after return to low altitude; (2) 21 matched European subjects permanently living at high altitude; and (3) a matched control group tested twice at low altitude. Results Short-term hypoxia significantly impaired all but 2 (visuospatial memory and processing speed) of the neuropsychological abilities that were tested. These impairments were even more severe in the children permanently living at high altitude. Three months after return to low altitude, the neuropsychological performances significantly improved and were comparable with those observed in the control group tested only at low altitude. Conclusions Acute short-term exposure to an altitude at which major tourist destinations are located induces marked executive and memory deficits in healthy children. These deficits are equally marked or more severe in children permanently living at high altitude and are expected to impair their learning abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-243
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pediatrics
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes

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© 2016 Elsevier Inc.


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