People exposed to the deadly Camp Fire in 2018 showed altered cognitive function months later; It’s new evidence of a growing phenomenon known as “climate shock” – ScienceDaily


In November 2018, the Camp Fire burned a total of 239 square miles, destroyed 18,804 structures and killed 85 people, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history.

Three years later, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, published a new study that looked at the psychological consequences, finding that exposure to “climate shocks” in affected populations led to increased and chronic mental health problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. and depression.

In a new study published in the January 18, 2023 online issue of PLOS climateand senior author Jyoti Mishra, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, Director of Neural Engineering and Translation Laboratories at UC San Diego, and Associate Director of the Climate and Mental Health Initiative at UC San Diego. with her colleagues. The study team reports that in a subset of subjects who were exposed to the Camp Fire, significant differences in cognitive performance and baseline brain activity were detected using electroencephalography (EEG).

Specifically, the researchers found that individuals exposed to fire showed increased activity in brain regions involved in cognitive control and interference processing — the ability to mentally cope with unwanted and often disturbing thoughts.

“For our brains to function well day in and day out, they need to process information and manage memories in ways that help achieve goals while ignoring or cutting out irrelevant or harmful distractions,” Mishra said.

“Climate change is an emerging challenge. It is well documented that extreme weather events lead to significant psychological impacts. Higher temperatures, for example, have been linked to greater suicide rates. As global warming amplifies, more wildfires are expected in California and globally. , with significant implications for mental health effects.

“In this study, we wanted to see if climate shock affected and altered cognitive and brain functions in a group of people who experienced it during a camp fire. We found that those who were affected, directly or indirectly, showed weaker processing intervention. Impairment may result in This cognitive impairment leads to impairment of daily functioning and reduced well-being.”

The study sample included 27 people who were directly exposed to the camp fire (for example, their homes were destroyed), 21 people who were indirectly exposed (they witnessed the fire, but were not directly affected) and 27 control individuals. All participants underwent cognitive tests with simultaneous EEG brain recordings.

Sixty-seven percent of the individuals directly exposed to the bullying reported recent trauma, as did 14 percent of the indirectly exposed individuals. None of the control individuals reported exposure to recent trauma.

The EEG recordings showed that the brains of the individuals who reported the trauma worked harder at processing interference and cognitive control, suggesting a compensatory effort but at a cost: a potentially increased risk of neurological abnormalities elsewhere.

“The evidence of diminished interference processing, along with altered functional brain responses, is useful because it can help direct efforts to develop resilience intervention strategies,” Mishra said.

“As the planet warms, more and more individuals will face extreme climate exposures, such as wildfires, and having therapeutic tools that can address underlying neurocognitive problems will be an important complement to other social and behavioral therapies.”

Co-authors are: Gillian K. Greenan of the University of California, San Diego. Matthew C. Withers, California State University, Chico; and Dakshin S Ramanathan, University of California, San Diego, and Virginia San Diego Medical Center.



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