Dementia: Astonishing report links cognitive decline to air pollution – ‘strong’ case

Steve Thompson recalls signs of his early-onset dementia

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The report, published on Monday by the United Kingdom Health Security Agency (UKHSA), assessed the impact of air pollution and cognitive decline.

In the government report, it says: “We have concluded that the evidence is now suggestive of an association between ambient air pollutants and an acceleration of the decline in cognitive function often associated with ageing, and with the risk of developing dementia.

“There are a number of plausible biological mechanisms by which air pollutants could cause effects on the brain leading to accelerated cognitive decline and dementia. Some of these have been demonstrated in experimental studies.

“We think there is a strong case for the effects of air pollutants on the cardiovascular system having a secondary effect on the brain.”

Poor cardiovascular health has long been known to have an impact on neurological health.

The reason for this is because the healthier the cardiovascular system, the more oxygen the heart can pump around the body to crucial organs such as the brain.

Were there any caveats to the government report?

In their conclusions the authors stated: “The evidence base is currently inadequate to allow direct quantification using a meta-analysis of epidemiological studies linking air pollution with cognitive decline or dementia.”

They added: “Direct quantification of cognitive decline or dementia associated with air pollution would therefore be subject to unknown uncertainty.”

What this statement means is that it is very difficult to assess just how many dementia patients have had their dementia caused by air pollution as the dominant factor.

What have charities said?

Charities such as Alzheimer’s Society already list air pollution as a risk factor for dementia, and say these particles “may cause damage to blood vessels in the person’s brain, as well as a build-up of substances that can cause Alzheimer’s disease”.

Is air pollution a major problem?

It is. Data from Public Health England published in 2018 suggested “long-term exposure to man-made air pollution in the UK has an annual effect equivalent to 28,000 to 36,000 deaths”.

They added: a reduction in fine particulate air pollution over 18 years (starting in 2018) could prevent:
• 50,900 cases of coronary heart disease
• 16,500 strokes
• 9,300 cases of asthma
• 4,200 cases of lung cancer.

As a result, on top of evidence of climate change having a negative impact on the environment, there are growing calls for more to be done to tackle air pollution.

The hope is that by reducing air pollution, the risk of dementia and other cardiovascular illness are reduced too.

To that end, this morning the government announced a £7million fund for local action to cut air pollution.

The fund will aim to help local communities reduce air pollution in their area.

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