Up In Smoke! Smoking Half a Pack A Day Increases Possibility of Alzheimer's

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • My mom was a clothes horse. While a former buyer for women’s wear at a major department store and then an owner of a fabric store, she amassed a pretty sizeable wardrobe of cool outfits.  Her apparel took over the walk-in closet at my parents’ house while Dad’s clothes were relegated to a much smaller closet in another bedroom. After Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and we moved her to the nursing home in 2005, we had to deal with her collection. Many clothes were donated to charity, but I still kept multiple outfits that were packed away in several large plastic tubs. These ended up in my garage in October 2006 after Dad moved to the area where Mom and I lived.

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    I finally decided to start going through these clothes in late 2009. I opened one and quickly picked up the smell of cigarette smoke that seemed stuck to the clothes.  That brought back memories of Mom, who died in 2007, lighting up regularly, whether we were at the store or out shopping. In fact, Dad reminded me that Mom, who started smoking when she was a teenager, would at times smoke two packs a day, which helps explain why she got Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

    It also may explain why she got Alzheimer’s disease. Last week, the media reported on a Kaiser Permanente study that found heavy smoking in midlife more than doubles the odds of developing dementia. This study is the first to look at the long-term consequences of heavy smoking in relation to dementia.
    The study looked at the records of 21,123 men and women, ages 50-60, between 1978 and 1985. About a fourth of these participants (5,367 people) were eventually diagnosed with dementia between 1994 and 2008. Of those, 2,367 were smokers and 261 were classified as heavy smokers because they smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. “Compared with non-smokers, those who had smoked two packs of cigarettes a day increased their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by more than 157% and had a 172% higher risk of developing vascular dementia – the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s,” USA Today reported.

    In its reporting on this study, Time.com stated, “Lighter smoking appeared to have later cognitive risks too: compared with nonsmokers, those who smoked a half-pack to one pack a day had a 37% higher risk of dementia, and those who smoked between one and two packs a day had a 44% greater risk.” No difference was seen between those who smoked less than half a pack of cigarettes a day and non-smokers. Additionally, the study found that gender and race did not make a difference in the findings linking smoking and dementia. Researchers plan to do a follow-up study to determine whether stopping smoking will lower the risk of dementia.

    I always have wished that Mom had stopped smoking earlier in her life. (She finally stopped when she was in her mid-70s after she was diagnosed with COPD.) Going through her clothes last year reminded me once again why I really don't like to be around people while they are smoking cigarettes. This study helps me realize the long-lasting effects that smoking can have - not only because the odor  that sticks to everything but also because of the consequences it can have on one's brain.

Published On: November 02, 2010