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Starting Early

Still buoyed up by the good news from the Lancet Commission that up to 40% of dementia worldwide could be avoided if policies are adopted to counter known correctable risk factors, news of growing inequalities in the UK makes me angry. We should not let this happen:

the educational attainment gap between richer and poorer students has been widened by the stresses of lockdown. Figures reveal differences which are exacerbated by Covid but were already marked: disadvantaged students are 18 months behind the average by the time they will be taking GCSE. Gypsy/Roma youngster are 34 months behind, while Chinese youngsters are 2 years ahead of the average. Persistent poverty in the UK is now affecting 36.7% of school children.

So almost 40% of children in the UK are being disadvantaged for life by poverty and lack of education – the two go together. The demands placed on services and families by the COVID-19 emergency, is making things worse – the poor getting poorer, unless action is taken to help achieve a better balance. Lost education in childhood and youth will have long lasting effects – including a greater likelihood of developing

dementia later in life.

A related observation is that children living near to green spaces make better progress with their education: children living in greener boroughs perform better:

The images of treeless streets and high-rise flats, with little access to parks or the countryside, come easily but uncomfortably to mind. The COVID-19 crisis has seen parks heavily used and appreciated, though abused and misused by some Parks in a pandemic: a glimpse into the future?

Education (lack of) is identified as the second most powerful predictor of cognitive loss and development of dementia late in life which can be corrected. Correction will reduce incidence of dementia by 7%.

The COVID-19 emergency is teaching lessons – but we need to take note and turn the learning into action. For the health of all across the age groups, we need to build in greater equality – with special stress on education for disadvantaged people throughout their lives. We need to invest more in achieving a balance of available public green spaces.

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