Smoking may be a key risk factor for the development of dementia, but many smokers do not realize quitting cigarettes can help to reduce dementia risks. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, dementia is the most feared health condition for people over the age of 55—more than any other life-threatening disease including cancer and diabetes.
Yet YouGov data commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed just 18% of people who smoke know that smoking increases the risk of dementia, compared to more than 70% who know that smoking causes lung diseases or cancers.
Smoking raises the risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, as it harms the vascular system (heart and blood vessels) and the brain. Studies also suggest that quitting smoking reduces this risk substantially, and smoking has been identified as one of twelve risk factors that if eliminated entirely, could collectively prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases.
However, recent data from Alzheimer’s Research UK shows only a third of UK adults know there are things they can do to help reduce their risk of dementia, and stopping smoking is one of them.
Dr. Chi Udeh-Momoh, a neuroscientist and dementia prevention expert based at Imperial College London, said, “If you smoke, quitting is perhaps the most important step you can take to protect both your heart and your brain. It really can be life-changing.”
“Many people know that smoking affects the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of conditions like high blood pressure and stroke. But fewer realize that these conditions, in turn, increase the risk of dementia, or that the chemicals in cigarette smoke can speed up the natural aging of the brain.”
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “Just a third of people realize that we can take steps to help reduce our risk of developing dementia in later life. This has to change, which is why improving people’s understanding of the things that they can do to shape their brain health is a real priority for Alzheimer’s Research UK.”