S. Turner, K. Carlson, J. Ward, W. M. Silvers

Whitworth University, Spokane WA

There is evidence to demonstrate that, in hypoxic environments (e.g. high altitudes) oxygen (O2) is rationed within the body to preserve vital body functions. In doing so, there are observed cognition impairments. The use of a simulated hypoxic environment allows for observation acute altitude-induced impairment of cognition, which could impact recreational activities, such as mountaineering. PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of acute hypoxia on mental cognition in healthy college-age students. METHODS: Seventeen qualified recreationally active males and females (nm = 3, nf = 14, age = 21 ± 2-y) completed two research sessions. A minimum of 48-h separated each research session. Pre-experimental procedures were identical for each test. During the research sessions, each participant was exposed to two randomly-assigned conditions: a normoxic, placebo condition (NORM) equivalent to 2,000-ft elevation, and a hypoxic condition (HYP) using a gas mixture (14.3% O2, nitrogen balanced) purportedly equivalent to 10,000-ft elevation. The NORM and HYP conditions were administered for 15-20-m while participants sat in a resting position. Thereafter, reaction time and word recall were assessed. An iWorx HK-214 recording system with LabScribe 2 software was used to administer a reaction time (RT) test for each participant during. The average response time was then collected and scored for each session. A list of ten words was presented to each participant before the RT test; once the RT test was completed, each participant was asked to recall as many words from the list (MEM) as they could remember. RT and MEM data from the NORM and HYP sessions were compared with a dependent groups t-test. RESULTS: The simulated altitude experienced in this study elicited no significant differences in RT (HYP: 0.419 ± 0.121-s, NORM: 0.450 ± 0.194-s, p = 0.46) and MEM (HYP: 6.2 ± 0.168-words, NORM: 6.7 ± 0.141-words, p = 0.56) compared to a normoxic state. CONCLUSIONS: Under these research conditions, acute simulation of 10,000-ft elevation did not impair cognition as measured by memory recall and reaction time. Future research should be conducted on the effects of hypoxia on memory recall and reaction time to verify the extent that high altitude locations may affect apparently healthy, college-age individuals.

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