Air pollution is linked to higher use of mental health services by people with dementia, research published by BMJ Mental Health suggests. It says that cutting levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter should be a priority in urban areas if demand on overstretched psychiatric services is to be reduced.
Researchers looked back at community mental health service use by 5,024 older people with a dementia diagnosis in south London over a period of nine years. They found that people living in areas with the highest exposure to NO2 were 27% more likely to use these services compared with those with the lowest exposure, while people exposed to the highest levels of small particulate matter were 33% more likely to use services.
They estimate that contacts with mental health services by older people with dementia could fall 13% for particulates and 38% for NO2 if levels of these pollutants were brought within WHO-recommended limits.
‘Based on the evidence presented, we contend that air pollution could be considered an important population-level target to reduce mental health service use in people with dementia, particular for those with vascular dementia,” the researchers claim.
But Alzheimer’s Research UK accused the government of “dragging their feet” on stricter air quality standards, saying that the current target date of 2040 was “a decade too late”.
Policy head Dr Susan Mitchell said: “Poor air quality is a significant public health issue, and this new research demonstrates its knock-on effect on already over-stretched health services and the lives of people living with dementia.”