Smoking and dementia

Smoking and dementia

Feb 09/2012Men who smoke cigarettes suffer a more rapid decline in brain functioning than men who don’t smoke according to a recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The researchers analyzed data on 5,099 men and 2,137 women who underwent a series of clinical exams, cognitive tests, and questionnaires. The main findings were that the men who smoked showed cognitive decline as severe as non-smokers who were 10 years older than them. In other words, a 50-year-old male smoker will show similar cognitive decline to a 60-year-old male who has never smoked before, explains Severine Sabia, lead study author and research associate at University College London. These early dementia-like brain difficulties start showing up in men as early as 45 years old.

It has been suggested before that smoking is a possible risk factor for dementia, but its impact may have been underestimated in the elderly populations because of the shorter life span of smokers. This was a so called cohort study based on repeated cognitive assessments over a 12 year period. The study was performed by resarchers from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, and Centre de Gérontologie, Hôpital Ste Périne, Assistance Publique–Hôpitaux de Paris (Dr Singh-Manoux). 

The cognitive test battery was composed of tests of memory, vocabulary, executive function and a global cognitive score summarizing performance across all 5 tests. Smoking status was assessed over the entire study period. Faster cognitive decline was observed among current smokers compared with never smokers in men .In ex-smokers with at least a 10-year cessation, there were no adverse effects on cognitive decline. In women, cognitive decline did not vary as a function of smoking status.

But why exactly could smoking be bad for the brain? It may be due to the negative effects of smoking on the vascular system, thus possibly affecting blood flow to important areas of the brain.

Maybe it is proper to qoute the famous American writer Kurt Wonnegut who said: "The public health authorities never mention the main reason many Americans have for smoking heavily, which is that smoking is a fairly sure, fairly honorable form of suicide".  Vonnegut was indeed referring to his own habits, he smoked unfiltered Pall Mall cigarettes.

Original article: Impact of Smoking on Cognitive Decline in Early Old Age

© Axel F Sigurdsson 2012