Vail Daily column: Smokers have higher risk of dementia |

Vail Daily column: Smokers have higher risk of dementia

Judson Haims

Smokers have a 45 percent higher risk of developing dementia than non-smokers (World Health Organization). People concerned about the possibility of developing dementia because of age and family history can minimize the potential by stopping smoking.

While the effects smoking has on our heart, lungs and vascular system have been known for quite some time, studies now confirm that smoking also increases the potential for Alzheimer’s disease.

Smoking effects cognitive decline via its negative effects on the cardiovascular system, increasing risk for both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Further, because smoking exacerbates the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain (atherosclerosis), the brain becomes deprived of many necessary nutrients and oxygen cells often causing further harm.

Most of us have known for years that there was a decisive connection between passive smoke, i.e., second-hand smoke or environmental tobacco smoke, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including heart and lung diseases. This prompted many governments around the world to institute smoke-free areas. For example, many restaurants, office buildings and public places are now smoke-free. However, what has recently become recognized is the link between environmental tobacco smoke and dementia.


Support Local Journalism

A study conducted in China by researchers from Anhui Medical University, King’s College London, University of Liverpool, University of Oxford and University of Texas demonstrated a more plausible link between environmental tobacco smoke and dementia — although, it should be noted that the study does have a few limitations, such as the unreliability of diagnosing dementia and participants ability to accurately recall exposure to second-hand smoke.

The researchers interviewed nearly 6,000 people age 60 and older in five Chinese provinces using a general health and risk factors questionnaire and the Geriatric Mental State Examination. Although no significant data correlation was found between environmental tobacco smoke and moderate dementia, the study did indicate a 29 percent increase in the risk for developing severe dementia symptoms if exposed to environmental tobacco smoke. A final tally showed that 10 percent of participants had severe dementia from exposure to passive smoking.

It is reported by the World Health Organization that there are more than 1 billion smokers in the world, with nearly 80 percent living in low and middle income countries, where tobacco-related illnesses are the heaviest. It is also known that China is the largest tobacco consumer in the world, and although the Chinese government has enacted laws to promote smoke-free environments in many public places, these laws have still not been well implemented.

Sadly, 90 percent of the world’s population lives in countries without smoke-free public areas. Considering the study indicated that continued exposure to passive smoke could increase the risk of developing severe dementia symptoms and that most of the world’s smoking population is located in countries with few laws regulating exposure to passive smoke, it behooves organizations such as World Health Organization to put pressure on governments to pass and enforce laws specific to reducing passive smoke exposure. Considering many experts believe we are in a worldwide dementia epidemic, the movement to reduce environmental tobacco smoke just makes sense.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to or call 970-328-5526.

Support Local Journalism