Mitigating the impact of air pollution on dementia and brain health: Setting the policy agenda (University of Suffolk, Together for Transformation Conference)

Much thanks to Valerie Gladwell and Colin Martin and the University of Suffolk for the opportunity to present at their Together for Transformation Conference, which focused on exploring transformational research to support collaboration, innovation and policy change.


I was there on behalf of INPSIRE and CECAN. InSPIRE is a UK policy and research consortium, housed at Durham University, devoted to mitigating the impact that air pollution and the exposome have on brain health (including cognitive function, mental health and dementia). CECAN is the Centre for the Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus.


I presented on the latest policy brief we have released on transforming policy on air quality and brain health. CLICK HERE FOR POLICY BRIEF. The brief is based on a 2022 article we published, Mitigating the impact of air pollution on dementia and brain health: Setting the policy agenda.


CLICK HERE for PDF of PowerPoint



Background: Emerging research suggests exposure to high levels of air pollution at critical points in the life-course is detrimental to brain health, including cognitive decline and dementia. Social determinants play a significant role, including socio-economic deprivation, environmental factors and heightened health and social inequalities. Policies have been proposed more generally, but their benefits for brain health have yet to be fully explored.


Objective and methods: Over the course of two years, we worked as a consortium of 20+ academics in a participatory and consensus method to develop the first policy agenda for mitigating air pollution's impact on brain health and dementia, including an umbrella review and engaging 11 stakeholder organisations.


Results: We identified three policy domains and 14 priority areas. Research and Funding included: (1) embracing a complexities of place approach that (2) highlights vulnerable populations; (3) details the impact of ambient PM2.5 on brain health, including current and historical high-resolution exposure models; (4) emphasises the importance of indoor air pollution; (5) catalogues the multiple pathways to disease for brain health and dementia, including those most at risk; (6) embraces a life course perspective; and (7) radically rethinks funding. Education and Awareness included: (8) making this unrecognised public health issue known; (9) developing educational products; (10) attaching air pollution and brain health to existing strategies and campaigns; and (11) providing publicly available monitoring, assessment and screening tools. Policy Evaluation included: (12) conducting complex systems evaluation; (13) engaging in co-production; and (14) evaluating air quality policies for their brain health benefits.


Conclusion: Given the pressing issues of brain health, dementia and air pollution, setting a policy agenda is crucial. Policy needs to be matched by scientific evidence and appropriate guidelines, including bespoke strategies to optimise impact and mitigate unintended consequences. The agenda provided here is the first step toward such a plan.