Smoking’s Link to Dementia and Cognitive Decline Strengthened by Studies

Monday, 26 Nov 2012 03:49 PM

By Mark Holthaus

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By damaging memory, learning and reasoning, smoking may be one of the main culprits in the cognitive decline that starts in midlife and precedes the dementia later suffered by many people.

A report by researchers at King's College London who were investigating links between heart attack or stroke and the state of the brain also showed that high blood pressure and being overweight may also affect the brain, but to a lesser extent than smoking. Their study looked at 8,800 people over age 50 and was published in the journal Age and Ageing.

The researchers said people need to be aware that lifestyles could damage the mind as well as the body.

The new British report follows a U.S study published last month that showed those who smoke at least two packs of cigarettes a day in mid-life face a doubled risk of Alzheimer's and that their risk of vascular dementia also rose significantly. The large American study looked at the health records of more than 21,000 people.

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The link between smoking and Alzheimer's has already been suggested, but the study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine is one of the biggest studies looking at how smoking in mid-life affects dementia risk decades later.

In the British study, data about the health and lifestyle of a group of over-50s was collected by the researchers and then brain tests, such as making participants learn new words or name as many animals as they could in a minute, were performed. The subjects were all tested again after four and then eight years.

The results showed that the overall risk of a heart attack or stroke was "significantly associated with cognitive decline" with those at the highest risk showing the greatest decline. A "consistent association" between smoking and lower scores in the tests was also found.

"We have identified a number of risk factors which could be associated with accelerated cognitive decline, all of which, could be modifiable," said Dr. Alex Dregan, one of the researchers. "We need to make people aware of the need to do some lifestyle changes because of the risk of cognitive decline."

"Research has repeatedly linked smoking and high blood pressure to a greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and this study adds further weight to that evidence,” said Dr. Simon Ridley, from Alzheimer's Research UK. "These results underline the importance of looking after your cardiovascular health from mid-life."

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