According to a new study, smoking elevates the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.
A study of more than 20,000 men and women found a 157% heightened risk of Alzheimer’s disease in people who had smoked more than two packs of cigarettes a day. For vascular dementia, these smokers had a 172% increased risk.
“Dementia is a disease that crops up in late life, and that becomes clinically apparent, but I think people really need to think about risk factors for it over the life course,” said Rachel Whitmer, study co-author and research scientist with Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California.
The data came from Kaiser Permanente Northern California members surveyed between 1978 and 1985. At that time, they were between ages 50 and 60. Diagnoses of various forms of dementia among these people were made from 1994 to 2008, and researchers took that information from electronic health records. The participants in this study were all alive and still members of the health plan in 1994.
Researchers found that associations with the development of the disease are less among smokers who smoke less than two packs a day, but still significant. Those who smoked a half-pack to one pack a day had an overall 37 percent elevated risk of dementia, and those who smoked between one and two packs had a 44 percent heightened risk.
“This gives great confidence in saying this kind of heavy smoking has some kind of association – and it looks like a fairly strong association – with the development of the disease,” Whitmer said.
The research speaks to what the Alzheimer’s Association “Maintain Your Brain” campaign is promoting: that brain health has a lot to do with overall health, Whitmer said.
“The brain is part of the body, it’s part of the whole and if you assault parts, it’s going to have an impact on the whole,” she said.