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Air pollution is ‘likely’ to raise dementia risk

Cognitive decline in older people more likely to be accelerated by exposure to emissions, finds review of 70 studies

Air pollution is likely to increase the risk of developing dementia, a government research group has said.

The Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants has published its findings after reviewing almost 70 studies that analysed how exposure to emissions affect the brain over time.

The 291-page report concludes that air pollution is likely to increase the risk of accelerated “cognitive decline” and of “developing dementia” in older people.

Experts believe this is due to the impact of pollutants entering the circulatory system, affecting blood flow to the brain.

The authors said: “The epidemiological evidence reviewed fairly consistently reports associations between chronic exposure to air pollution and reduced global cognition and impairment in visuospatial abilities as well as cognitive decline and increased risk of dementia.

“Results are heterogeneous as regards to other cognitive domains such as executive function, attention, memory, language and mild cognitive impairment. The identified neuroimaging studies consistently report associations between exposure to air pollution and white matter atrophy.”

It adds that studies are split over which pollutant is most associated with these effects.

The committee said it had made recommendations for further research to help develop the evidence.

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About 850,000 people in the UK suffer with dementia, according to the NHS. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA
About 850,000 people in the UK suffer with dementia, according to the NHS. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

There is also more well-established evidence to show that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of heart disease.

Breathing in emissions can damage the blood vessels by making them narrower and harder – increasing the likelihood of clots, abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks, according to the British Heart Foundation.

Under the Environment Act passed last year, ministers must set new targets for curbing air pollutants by 31 October. But their proposed goal for cutting annual average levels of dangerous pollutant fine particulate matter PM2.5, to 10 micrograms per cubic metre across England by 2040, is double the World Health Organization’s new guideline limits and has drawn criticism from environmental campaigners.



PA Media via The Guardian

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