Smokers More Likely to Get Dementia, Alzheimer's
Mom took her first drag on a cigarette when she was 16. Her last inhale happened when she was 73. In between that time, Mom smoked like a chimney - my father estimates that she went through two packs of cigarettes a day during her smoking "prime." Mom finally stopped smoking when she was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in the late 1990s.
Not only did Mom wreck her lungs, but she might have unwittingly contributed to the development of Alzheimer's disease. A new study in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that people who smoke are more likely to develop dementia than nonsmokers or those who smoked in the past.
The study followed nearly 7,000 people age 55 and older for an average of seven years. Over that time, 706 of the participants developed dementia. People who were current smokers at the time of the study were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who had never smoked or past smokers.
As we talked about this study's findings, Dad described how Mom rationalized the quantity she smoked daily by noting that most of the cigarettes burned off in the ashtray because she was busy fixing sewing machines at the family business. When my brother or I would encourage her to kick the habit, Mom would reply, "But the brand's low-tar."
By 2001 when Mom and I went on our last vacation together, the COPD had damaged her lungs so badly that she could barely climb the hill in Montreal, Canada to return to our hotel. During that walk, Mom gasped for air and was constantly looking for a bench to sit down on to recover her strength. A year later, her lungs were worse - and her short-term memory problems were becoming evident. In 2005, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Over the past two years since Mom's diagnosis with dementia, my brother and I came to the same hypothesis, separately - we believe that Mom smoked like crazy so that she would avoid getting dementia. Having been the caregiver for her mother who had dementia, Mom was adament: "If I get like that, just take me out to the desert and let me walk away!"
It's sad to think that Mom's plan to shorten her life so she wouldn't get dementia might have contributed to her getting the disease she most feared.