Smoking May Speed Mental Decline in Elderly
Smoking may accelerate older adults’ progression toward
dementia, a multinational study suggests.
In three of four European studies included in the analysis,
older men and women who currently smoked showed a more rapid
decline in mental functioning than nonsmokers. Former smokers
generally fell somewhere in between.
Smoking is a well-known risk factor for stroke, and some research
suggests it contributes to dementia, including Alzheimer’s
disease. Experts suspect that the harm smoking wreaks on the
arteries and blood circulation are to blame.
The new study included investigations in the United Kingdom,
France, Denmark, and The Netherlands that followed more than
9,200 adults age 65 and older, all of whom were free from dementia
at the outset. Standard tests of mental function showed that,
compared with nonsmokers, current smokers showed a steeper drop
in mental acuity over two years.
Only in the French study was there no association between smoking
and cognitive decline. The reason is unclear, but cultural differences
in smoking habits are one possibility. The authors note that
before 1950, more-educated people commonly smoked, and initial
evidence from the French study that smoking lowered dementia
risk was explained away by higher education levels.
Volume 62, page 920
March 23, 2004