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Smokers have an increased risk of dementia, and smoking cessation can substantially decrease the risk, in some cases to that of never smokers. Up to four in ten cases of dementia could be linked to health, lifestyle and environmental risk factors. Quitting smoking was ranked the third most significant out of the twelve modifiable risk factors identified.
The WHO Knowledge Summary on Tobacco and Dementia explains many of the reasons behind the link between smoking and dementia. These include the fact that the two most common forms of dementia – Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia – have both been linked to problems with the vascular system (your heart and blood vessels).
- smoking increases the risk of vascular problems, including strokes or smaller bleeds in the brain, which are also risk factors for dementia. In addition, toxins in cigarette smoke cause inflammation and stress to cells, which have both been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
- WHO estimates that 14% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide are potentially attributable to smoking.
The British doctors study over fifty-years found that quitting smoking as late as aged 60 could increase life expectancy by as much as three years. The benefits improve the younger you choose to quit, with those quitting aged 30 gaining up to 10 years of life expectancy.
Yet the 2022 ASH YouGov survey of adults in Great Britain found relatively low levels of understanding that smoking can cause dementia, particularly among smokers where only 18% (less than 1 in 5) correctly identified that smoking is linked to dementia.