Men Suffer Dementia From Smoking More Than Women
February 7, 2012

Men Suffer Dementia From Smoking More Than Women

Researchers know smoking is a risk factor for dementia in the aged, but they are also learning that men can experience more rapid cognitive decline than peers who have never smoked or who have been ex-smokers for at least 10 years.

The study, from the University College London´s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health looked at data collected from 5,099 men and 2,137 women. All were employees of the British Civil Service who had participated in the study, which launched in 1985 and conducted its ninth phase between 2007 and 2009.

Each participant´s performance was tested on memory, verbal skills and reasoning over a period of 10 years, beginning when the participants were in their mid-fifties. The study found that men who smoked showed a greater decline in these mental functions than those who had never smoked.

Severine Sabia, the study´s lead author explained to Carrie Gann of ABC News: “Smoking seemed to speed up the cognitive aging process, making men function mentally as if they were 10 years older. For example, a 50-year-old male smoker shows a similar cognitive decline as a 60-year-old male never-smoker,.”

Interestingly, smokers who had quit at least 10 years before the first assessment did not show the advancing cognitive decline. Women, perhaps because of smoking less than their male counterparts overall, did not show the same levels of decline. Researchers also theorized men engaged in higher levels of other risk factors, such as alcohol consumption.

The team was not sure of the reasons behind smokers´ rapid mental decline, but suggested that it could stem from vascular or lung damage.

“It is increasingly recognized that age-related cognitive pathologies such as dementia result from long-term processes, perhaps beginning as long as 20 to 30 years before the clinical diagnosis of dementia. Our study illustrates the importance of examining risk factors for cognitive decline much earlier in the life course,” the coauthors concluded.

Director of the Alzheimer´s Disease Center at the University of California at Davis, Dr. Charles DeCarli, claimed that differences in cardiovascular disease may also explain why the study found that men showed more cognitive decline linked to smoking than women did.

“Men have more heart disease and greater stroke risk than women do up until about age 70 or so. Part of that is related to lifestyle,” DeCarli told Gann. “Men of this age group often smoked more than women did.”

Smoking´s long-term effects on mental function are very likely underestimated, the study explains, with smokers more likely to expire from other health problems before they have the chance to develop dementia.

Results of the study are published in the Archives of General Psychiatry journal.


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