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Research suggests link between pollution levels and use of mental health services for people with dementia

Research conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London has highlighted that exposure to air pollution is associated with “increased use” of mental health services amongst people with dementia.

A research group led by the institute’s academics and the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health at KCL analysed data on 5,024 people “with a primary diagnosis of dementia for up to nine years”. Anonymised electronic records of community mental health service use were examined along with a modelled level of pollutants at participants’ residential addresses over a five-year period, with particular focus on concentrations of two major air pollutants.

The study found that living at an address with higher levels of both pollutants with associated with increased use of community mental health services in people with dementia, with various reasons for service use cited including depression, psychosis and behavioural problems linked to dementia. In particular, the study highlighted that “exposure to all air pollutants was highest in people with vascular dementia and lowest in those with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Using the Health of the Nation Outcomes Scale to measure physical health and social activity over the study period, the researchers also found that exposure to one of the major pollutants was associated with a higher score on the scale, “indicating poorer health and social functioning.”

Dr Ioannis Bakolis, the study’s senior author and reader in biostatistics and epidemiology, commented: “Our findings indicate that reducing levels of air pollution could lead to a considerable reduction in the use of community mental health services by people with dementia both in South London as well as other urban traffic areas in the UK.”

In other news around dementia, at the start of the year we covered the launch of a specialist service being trialled across the country, as part of NHS England’s efforts to ensure that more people are being assessed for dementia following the pandemic.

We also shared how Birmingham and Solihull ICS has recently launched a dementia-specific strategy for the next five years, focusing on improving access, support and provision of information for people with dementia.