Call for urgent action to clean up Scotland's air as pollution linked to dementia

Efforts to slash pollution and ensure the air in Scotland is clean to breathe must be urgently stepped up, doctors have said.

The call comes following the publication of major new research linking toxic air with dementia and mental decline.

The report, from the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants – which provides independent scientific advice to the UK government – found “an association between exposure to ambient air pollutants and both the risk of developing dementia and acceleration of cognitive decline”.

It said there is evidence that air pollution – especially particulate matter such as in traffic fumes – increases the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, which are “known to have adverse effects on cognitive function”.

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The number of Scots suffering dementia has been rising, with numbers expected to surge by 50 per cent to more than 120,000 within the next 20 years.

Scotland has some of the strongest targets in Europe for emissions and air quality.

However, there are concerns about the ability to meet these targets and to do so on a consistent basis.

A new report by independent scientific advisers to the government has concluded that breathing dirty air can accelerate mental decline and bring on dementia. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Legal limits are frequently breached – such as last year, despite a historic low in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Now members of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) are demanding the Scottish Government to take urgent action to ensure targets are enforced.

This could lead to tangible public health benefits, they say.

People living with dementia and their families understand what a debilitating condition it can be,” RCPE president Professor Andy Elder said.

“We now appreciate that its seeds can be sown much earlier in life and as such that prevention and attention to brain health over the life course are of huge importance.”

He said the findings prove there is “a potential avenue for prevention” and should “act as an urgent wake-up call to government”.

He added: “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.”

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