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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
Tuesday June 18, 2024
Tuesday June 18, 2024

Climate change threatens brain health: Urgent action required

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Extreme temperatures and adverse weather events worsen neurological and psychiatric disorders, and increase hospitalizations, and mortality, says UCL-led study

Climate change poses a significant threat to individuals with brain conditions, impacting their health and increasing hospitalizations and mortality rates. Extreme temperatures, poor sleep due to warmer nights, and adverse weather events exacerbate neurological and psychiatric disorders, according to a team of researchers led by Professor Sanjay Sisodiya from UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology.

The research team reviewed 332 papers published worldwide between 1968 and 2023, concluding that the effects of climate change on neurological diseases could be substantial. Their findings, published in The Lancet Neurology, highlight the urgent need to understand and mitigate the impact of climate change on brain health to prevent worsening inequalities.

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Climate change affects various neurological conditions, including stroke, migraine, Alzheimer’s, meningitis, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. The researchers also analyzed the impact on psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Professor Sisodiya noted that climate variations, particularly extreme temperatures and greater temperature fluctuations, significantly affect brain diseases.

High nighttime temperatures, in particular, disrupt sleep, which can aggravate several brain conditions. The study found an increase in stroke admissions, disability, and mortality during heatwaves or higher ambient temperatures. People with dementia are especially vulnerable to temperature extremes and adverse weather events, such as flooding or wildfires, due to cognitive impairments that limit their ability to adapt.

Reduced risk awareness and diminished capacity to seek help or mitigate harm make individuals with dementia more susceptible. These factors, combined with frailty, multimorbidity, and psychotropic medications, lead to increased hospital admissions and mortality during hotter days and heat waves. Similarly, mental health disorders see higher incidence, hospital admissions, and mortality risks associated with extreme temperatures and daily temperature fluctuations.

The study emphasizes that as adverse weather events become more severe and global temperatures rise, populations face worsening environmental factors that were previously not severe enough to affect brain conditions. This highlights the importance of up-to-date research considering both current and future climate change scenarios.

Professor Sisodiya stressed the need for agile and dynamic research to generate useful information for individuals and organizations. He also highlighted the concept of climate anxiety as an added influence, noting that many brain conditions are associated with higher psychiatric disorder risks, including anxiety. Multimorbidities can further complicate the impacts of climate change and necessary adaptations to preserve health.

To raise awareness and promote action, the new article precedes The Hot Brain 2: Climate Change and Brain Health event, led by Professor Sisodiya and jointly organized by UCL and The Lancet Neurology. The event aims to highlight the risks of climate change for brain health, foster global collaborative research, and promote climate change action and adaptation strategies.

The research was funded by the Epilepsy Society and the National Brain Appeal Innovation Fund, emphasizing the need for continued investment in understanding and mitigating the health impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations.

Analysis

The findings of the UCL-led research team underscore the multifaceted impact of climate change on brain health. Politically, these findings call for urgent policy responses to mitigate climate change and protect vulnerable populations. Governments must prioritize climate action and allocate resources to support healthcare systems in managing the increasing burden of climate-related health issues.

Economically, the increased hospitalizations and healthcare demands due to worsening brain conditions strain healthcare systems and incur significant costs. Addressing climate change can alleviate these economic burdens by reducing the frequency and severity of health crises. Investing in climate-resilient healthcare infrastructure is crucial for long-term economic sustainability.

Sociologically, the study highlights the disproportionate impact of climate change on individuals with pre-existing health conditions. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with chronic neurological and psychiatric disorders, face heightened risks. This necessitates targeted public health interventions and community support systems to ensure equitable access to healthcare and resources.

From a local perspective, communities must adapt to the increased frequency of extreme weather events and their health impacts. Local governments and health services need to implement robust emergency response plans and community education programs to enhance resilience and preparedness.

Gender perspectives reveal that women, who often assume caregiving roles, may face increased caregiving burdens due to the exacerbation of brain conditions by climate change. This dynamic highlights the need for gender-sensitive policies that support caregivers and address the specific challenges faced by women.

Racial and minority perspectives emphasize the need for equitable healthcare access and culturally sensitive communication strategies. Marginalized communities may experience barriers to healthcare, exacerbating health disparities. Ensuring that climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies are inclusive and accessible to all populations is essential for reducing these disparities.

In conclusion, the UCL-led study provides compelling evidence of the detrimental effects of climate change on brain health. A comprehensive approach encompassing political, economic, sociological, local, gender, and racial perspectives is necessary to address these challenges. Urgent action to mitigate climate change and protect vulnerable populations is imperative to safeguard public health and prevent worsening inequalities.

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