New research to investigate whether CO poisoning is being misdiagnosed as dementia

November 15, 2017

The Gas Safety Trust (GST) has announced it will fund a piece of research looking at the impact of low level carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in older adults and its potential impact on cognitive function.


The research, to be carried out by Lancaster University and supported by the West Midlands and Merseyside Fire Services, will gather data on low levels of CO present in homes of older adults and screen their cognitive function and mental health. 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.


The Alzheimer’s Society say that over 850,000 people have a diagnosis of dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025. They say that this will increase to 2 million by 2051. 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 have dementia whilst in the UK there are over 40,000 people under 65 years of age with dementia.


Symptoms of dementia include memory impairment and cognitive impairment such as effects on language, motor skills and recognition. These symptoms are similar to those displayed by people who have been poisoned by CO.


In 2016, the GST, in collaboration with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network West Midlands, held a roundtable discussion in Birmingham to look in particular at CO in relation to the impact on peoples’ cognitive function as well as potential links to dementia.


This piece of research from Lancaster University stemmed from discussions that took place at this roundtable and from data showing that over the 2014/15 winter period there were four fatalities in people over 80 years of age, from three separate incidents involving piped natural gas.


Chris Bielby, Chairman of the GST said:


“It was very encouraging to receive this proposal as further research into understanding the risks of low level CO poisoning is an important research area for the Gas Safety Trust – the Trust is focused on working to help reduce the health and safety risks for the more vulnerable in our society.”


Professor Carol Holland, Co-Director of the Centre for Ageing Research at Lancaster University said:


“We are delighted to receive this funding award to enable research that will make a significant addition to our prevention approach to research on 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.”


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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