Smoking can double the risk of developing dementia

Smoking can double the risk of dementia, and campaigners are warning the number suffering from the condition will treble within a generation.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Ash Ireland warned that while diseases such as cancer, stroke, and heart disease are well documented, not many are aware of the direct links between tobacco and the raised incidence of dementia.

There are 48,000 people living with dementia in Ireland — a figure set to treble in a generation. It is predicted that, next year, 11 people a day will develop dementia in Ireland, with the Alzheimer Society estimating the average annual cost per sufferer is €40,500. By 2041, there will be 132,000 cases, according to projections.

A report commissioned by Alzheimer’s Research UK found that one in every three people born this year in Britain will eventually develop dementia.

The Alzheimer Society said research shows that smokers have a 50% greater chance of developing dementia than those who have never smoked, but this decreases substantially upon stopping smoking. The World Health Organisation estimates that 14% of cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide are potentially attributable to smoking.

Smoking raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke, which are underlying risk factors for dementia. It increases total plasma homocysteine (an amino acid that synthesizes proteins), high levels of which raise the risk of stroke and cognitive impairment.

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Smoking also accelerates atherosclerosis — the build-up of fatty substances leading to a narrowing of the blood vessels in the heart and brain — which can deprive brain cells of oxygen.

Smoking can also cause oxidative stress, which arises from the body’s interaction with oxygen. Oxidative stress is separately implicated as a causal factor in Alzheimer’s disease and has an impact on the body’s ageing process.

The Alzheimer Society’s head of advocacy, Tina Leonard, called on the Government to integrate dementia prevention into the national public health programmes alongside other major non-communicable diseases.

“Current health promotion in Ireland ignores modifiable risk factors for dementia,” said Ms Leonard. “The Department of Health’s tobacco free policy highlights the associations between smoking and premature mortality, cancers, and respiratory diseases but not the established links between smoking and dementia. It’s high time the concept of brain health underpinned our leading health policies if we have a chance of stemming this tide.”

Ash Ireland chairman Ross Morgan said public policies aimed at reducing smoking could play an important role in addressing the dementia risk in society.

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