Does Smoking Increase the Risk of Dementia?

For a multitude of good reasons, smokers are always being encouraged to take the first steps to quit smoking. National No Smoking Day in the UK was recently celebrated on the second Wednesday of March. Every November in the US is Tobacco Cessation Month, and November 15 is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, where smokers across the US are challenged to take the first step toward quitting. In the Philippines, June has been National No Smoking Month by presidential Proclamation since 1983. Every year, on 31 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) and global partners join together to celebrate World No Tobacco Day. Recently, in December 2022, New Zealand became the first country in the world to outlaw smoking for the next generation by implementing an annually rising smoking age.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, smoking is bad for you, and foisting your secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke on others is bad for them (thirdhand smoke is the tobacco residue that’s left behind after smoking and builds up on surfaces such as hair, clothing, car interiors, and household furnishings, which toxic residue recirculates back into the air creating harmful compounds that remain at high levels long after smoking has stopped).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last generation, you know that smoking (including secondhand and thirdhand smoke) causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Smoking also increases the risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis. If these reasons aren’t enough, new research now indicates that smoking increases the risk of dementia.

“We know that smoking harms every organ of the human body,” said Adrienne Johnson, an assistant scientist at the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention in Madison. “The brain is no exception.”

Smokers are at significantly higher risk for dementia and dementia-related death. The World Health Organization estimated that 14 percent of dementia cases worldwide may be caused by smoking. Overall, current smokers are 30 percent more likely to develop dementia and 40 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to an analysis of 37 different studies published in the journal PLOS ONE. And the more a person smokes, the higher the risk: for every 20 cigarettes per day, the risk of dementia climbs 34 percent! “It is estimated that worldwide, potentially 14% of Alzheimer’s dementia could be attributed to smoking,” according to Dr. Mani Santhana Krishnan.

Why Smoking Increases the Risk of Dementia

Here’s why smoking puts you at a much higher risk of developing dementia:

· Smoking increases the risk of vascular problems (heart and blood vessels), including strokes or bleeding in the brain, which are risk factors for many types of dementia.

· Poisonous chemicals in cigarette smoke cause inflammation and stress to cells and kill off brain cells and neurons, linked to the development of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dr. Krishnan, “(l)ike other smoking related health issues, quitting at any age can still significantly reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – that’s why it’s really important to raise awareness of these issues.”

Smoking Cessation Protects Brain Health as We Age

Dementia is the most feared health condition for people over the age of 55. Luckily though, for people who smoke and their family members exposed to secondhand smoke, the damage done to the brain by smoking is reversible! In fact, studies show that quitting smoking can help erase the higher risk for brain harm. Quitting smoking is one of seven lifestyle changes, known as Life’s Simple 7, that research has shown improves heart and brain health.

“Quitting at any time helps. But the earlier you quit, the better,” said Dr. Jennifer Deal, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Dr. Deal led a study that found smokers’ increased risk for dementia decreased over time when they quit, eventually reaching a point after nine years when it was no higher than those who never smoked. “The message coming out of our research is that earlier is better,” Deal said. “Quitting in midlife is better than later in life. But quitting at any time is beneficial.”

Unfortunately, people are less likely to quit the older they get. Roughly 17 percent of 45- to 65-year-olds smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is higher than the national average of 14 percent for all adults 18 and older. And older smokers are more likely to smoke daily and less likely to try to quit than younger smokers.

How to Quit Smoking

For anyone who smokes, quitting is an important step to protect brain health and prevent dementia. Quitting will help your whole body, including your brain, as you get older. As mentioned, it’s never too late!

If you’ve decided to try to quit smoking, here are five steps you can take:

1. Devise a plan and stick to it!
Having a plan in place can help you stay focused, confident, and motivated to quit smoking and stay away from cigarettes for good!

Remember: There is no single smoking cessation plan that will work for everyone. Be honest about your needs. If you need assistance, be sure to talk to your doctor or a therapist for assistance. In fact, counseling increases the chance of success, according to a report released by the U.S. surgeon general.

2. Get Support
You don’t need to rely on willpower alone to go smoke-free.

· Lean on positive people. Tell your family and friends about your plan to quit. Ask them for support, especially on your first few days and weeks of being smoke-free. They can help you get through the rough spots.

· Try a text message program. Sign up for SmokefreeTXT online or text QUIT to 47848.

· Download a smartphone app. There are free apps to help you track cravings and understand your smoking patterns.

· Visit Smokefree on social media.

· Talk to an expert at a quitline. Call the National Cancer Institute Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. or find your state’s quitline by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Chat with a quit smoking counselor. LiveHelp is Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. EST.

· People with mental disorders are more likely to smoke and to have a tougher time quitting without assistance. Smoking rates among people with mood disorders, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental disorders are two to five times higher than that of the general population. Collectively, this group smokes nearly 40 percent of all cigarettes consumed by adults in this country, according to the CDC.

· As an added bonus, if you smoke, Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers up to eight smoking and tobacco-use cessation counseling sessions in a 12-month period! Learn more here.

3. Keep Busy
Staying busy is a great way to stay smoke-free and distract you from cravings. Think about trying some of these activities:

· Drink lots of water;
· Relax with deep breathing;
· Exercise;
· Get out of the house for a walk;
· Chew gum or hard candy;
· Keep your hands busy with a pen or toothpick, or play a game with friends;
· Go to a movie;
· Spend time with friends and family;
· Treat yourself to dinner at your favorite restaurant.

4. Avoid Smoking Triggers
Triggers are the people, places, things, and situations that set off your urge to smoke.

· Throw away your cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays if you haven’t already.

· Get plenty of rest and eat healthy. Being tired can trigger you to smoke.

· Change your routine to avoid the things you might associate with smoking.

· Avoid caffeine, which can make you feel jittery. Try drinking water instead.

· Spend time with nonsmokers.

· Go to places where smoking isn’t allowed, which are almost indoor places these days!

5. Stay Positive
Smoking cessation is difficult. It happens one day at a time. Reward yourself for being smoke-free for 24 hours. You deserve it. And if you’re not feeling ready to quit today, set a quit date that makes sense for you. It’s OK if you need a few more days to prepare to quit smoking.

I hope these tips are helpful for anyone who is trying to quit smoking!

Planning for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

Do you have a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? Persons with Alzheimer’s disease and their families face special legal and financial needs. At the Farr Law Firm, we help protect a family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. If your family is facing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or any other type of dementia, please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Northern Virginia Medicaid Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg, Medicaid Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville, MD Medicaid Planning: 301-519-8041
Annapolis, MD Medicaid Planning: 410-216-0703
Washington, DC Medicaid Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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