The first British study of its kind has discovered that living in a polluted area increases the risk of dementia by up to 40 per cent.

Researchers believe that thousands of cases of dementia could be prevented every year by cutting traffic fumes. Polluted air is known to cause lung and heart problems as tiny soot particles and chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pass deep into the body.

Research is also increasingly linking traffic fumes to thinking problems. Last year a Canadian study of 2.2 million people concluded that those who lived continuously near a busy road were 12 per cent more likely to develop dementia.

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