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Gas Safety Trust to fund CO poisoning cognitive functions study

Organisation will help finance University of Lancaster study into possible links between low level poisoning and neurological disorders

The Gas Safety Trust has announced funding for new research looking at the impact of low-level carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning on cognitive functions and whether symptoms could be misdiagnosed as dementia in some cases.

Lancaster University will be conducting the research, with the support of the West Midlands and Merseyside Fire Services. The research will use data on homes with low levels of CO exposure that will be screened for links with issues around cognitive functions and mental health in elderly residents.

“This research will assist in the understanding of whether low level and long-term CO exposure can be a risk factor in neurological disorders such as dementia,” said the trust in a statement.

The financing reflects an ongoing focus by the Gas Safety Trust to support a number of research projects looking at CO exposure that could lead to new approaches around appliance fitting and maintenance standards for suppliers and property owners.

Trust chairman Chris Bielby said the proposal for Lancaster’s research was deemed as important in better understanding possible risks from low levels of exposure to CO, particularly among more vulnerable sections of society such as the elderly.

Over 850,000 people in the UK are presently diagnosed with dementia, with the figures expected to rise to more than one million in less than a decade, according to The Alzheimer’s Society charity. The figures added that one in six people over 80 have dementia present, while 40,000 under 65 years of age have also been diagnosed.

The condition is associated with symptoms such as memory and cognitive function impairment that can impact language and motor skills. These symptoms are similar to the health impacts of individuals suffering CO poisoning, according to the Gas Safety Trust.

Lancaster’s research into the potential impacts of low level exposure to the gas follows a roundtable held by the trust and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network West Midlands to look at the impact of CO exposure on cognitive function. Potential links to dementia were also discussed.

The Gas Safety Trust said that Lancaster University’s research has emerged from the roundtable and data from the winter of 2014/15 that recorded four fatalities in people over 80 years of age that were linked to three incidents involving piped natural gas.

Professor Carol Holland, co-director of the University of Lancaster-based Centre for Ageing Research, said the funding would be a significant aid to research into cognitive decline and dementia.

“Lancaster University is committed to working with a variety of sectors to develop understanding that will help us all to reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline in older age,” said Professor Holland.

“The GST, set up in 2005, is the UK’s leading gas safety research charity and has in recent years refocused its strategy on funding several strands of CO related research, to provide the underpinning empirical evidence that supports improved awareness and understanding of the effects of CO.”

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