Report linking air pollution and dementia should be 'wake up call'

Scottish doctors have called on the Government to take action to lower emissions.

Report linking air pollution and dementia should be ‘wake up call’ to Scottish Government, say doctors iStock

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) has called for urgent enforcement of air quality standards following a report linking air pollution and dementia.

The report found that “an association between exposure to ambient air pollutants and both the risk of developing dementia and acceleration of cognitive decline” and that there “is evidence that air pollution  increases the risk of cardiovascular, including cerebrovascular, disease” which “are known to have adverse effects on cognitive function.”

Charities such as Age Scotland have highlighted that the number of people in Scotland living with dementia is expected to increase by 50% to over 120,000 within the next 20 years.

A growing number of people with dementia requires additional resources within health and social care services, and places obvious strains on individuals and families.

The report’s findings suggest that taking action to reduce air pollution may help prevent some cases of dementia and may also slow down rates of cognitive decline. 

Now, the organisation is calling upon the Scottish Government to assess how it can support appropriate measures that may aid the prevention of dementia.

On air pollution, it is generally accepted that Scotland has some of the strongest targets in Europe for emissions and air quality, which are supported by the RCPE, however, there are concerns about the ability to meet these targets and to do so on a consistent basis. 

The RCPE is urging the Scottish Government to take all action necessary, including the consideration of additional measures, to ensure that emissions and air quality targets are enforced as a matter of urgency. 

In addition, the RCPE is continuing to undertake a number of other pieces of work in relation to air pollution and its impact on health, including its Short Life Working Group investigating the impact of air pollution on children.

Professor Andy Elder, president of the RCPE said: “The rising prevalence of cognitive impairment and dementia presents a growing challenge for our health and social care services, as well as so many individuals and their families. 

“This report should act as an urgent wake-up call to the government to ensure that the air quality and emissions targets currently enshrined in legislation are actually enforced and met. 

“This has the potential to reduce the number of people developing dementia and to slow down the rate at which cognitive impairment worsens and must therefore be considered a priority.”

Anna Borthwick, executive lead of brain health Scotland at Alzheimer Scotland, said: “It is now increasingly clear that air pollution impacts brain health and increases risk of dementia.

“Our research shows that in Scotland, one in two people feel they are exposed to air pollution every week, and those in areas of multiple deprivation feel they encounter air pollution on a daily basis.

“Taking personal steps to reduce pollution and seek clean air is critically important, but of all the steps we can take to protect our brain health, this is the one that most requires collective action. This must be tackled at a national level by those who can lead societal change.”

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