Study Links Smoking, Cognitive Decline

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • My mother smoked like a chimney. She smoked cigarettes for about 50 years and eventually developed a pack-a-day habit. She tried a couple of times to quit, but wasn’t successful until she developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. That diagnosis finally was enough incentive to get her to stop lighting up. However, the damage was done to her lungs – and probably to her brain. About five years after her last cigarette, Mom was already showing signs of memory loss.

    And that shouldn’t be surprising, based on a new study out of England. This study, which followed older adults who were participants in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, was designed to explore links between cardiovascular risk and cognitive decline in older people.  Cardiovascular risk factors included smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index. The average age of study participants was 66 years old and 55 percent were women.  

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    Researchers followed up with participants at the four-year period and again at the eight-year mark. During those meetings, researchers tested the participants’ memories by teaching them to remember 10 unrelated words and then asking them to remember the words at various times during the meeting. Participants also were asked to name as many animals as they could think of during a one-minute period. They also were asked to cross through specific letters in a series of letters, which is a test to gauge attention, mental speed and visual scanning.

    During their analysis of the results from this test, the researchers found that elevated cardiovascular risk appeared to be associated with accelerated cognitive decline. Participants who had systolic blood pressure that was greater than 160 mm/HG had lower global cognitive and specific memory scores. However, smoking was found to be consistently associated with lower performance on lower global cognition, memory and executive scores. “Those with high BMI, blood pressure, or stroke risk scores performed worse on cognitive tasks, but those results varied more widely across the three objective tests,” CNN reported.

    This study builds on earlier studies’ findings. For instance, a 2003 study looked at 11,003 people who were 65 and older who were screened for dementia at the start of the study using the Mini-Mental State Examinations (MMSE). The researchers followed up with these participants slightly more than two years later. They found that people who had never smoked had about a .03 point per year decline in the results of their MMSE. Former smokers had a .06 point decline whereas current smokers had a 0.19 point decline. “Higher rates of decline by smoking were found in men and women, persons with and without family history of dementia, and in three of four participating studies,” the researchers wrote. “Higher cigarette pack–year exposure was correlated with a significantly higher rate of decline.”

    So if you’re a smoker, how can you quit? One way is through two American Lung Association’s programs.  The first program, Freedom from Smoking, is designed for adults. This program, which started in 1981, is offered both in person and on-line. The in-person version involves a small group led by an American Lung Association-trained facilitators. The group meets for eight sessions and receives a step-by-step plan to quit smoking. “The clinic format encourages participants to work on the process and problems of quitting both individually and as part of a group,” ALA’s website states. Program materials are available in English and Spanish.

  • In addition, the American Lung Association has a program targeted toward teen smokers called Not on Tobacco (NOT). This program is designed to help smokers who are between the ages of 14-19 end their addiction to nicotine.  This program is voluntary and non-punitive and is designed to help these smokers learn life-management skills. The curriculum consists of ten 50-minute sessions that are offered once a week for a 10-week period.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Lung Association. (nd). Getting help to quit smoking.

    CNN. (2012).This is your brain on smoking.

    Dregan, A. (2012). Cardiovascular risk factors and cognitive decline in adults aged 50 and over: a population-based cohort study.  Age and Aging.

    Ott, A, et al. (2003). Effect of smoking on global cognitive function in nondemented elderly. Neurology journal.

Published On: December 06, 2012