In a study from The Ohio State University, scientists found middle-aged smokers are far more likely to report having memory loss and confusion than nonsmokers, and the likelihood of cognitive decline is lower for those who have quit, even recently.
The research is the first to examine the relationship between smoking and cognitive decline using a one-question self-assessment asking people if they’ve experienced worsening or more frequent memory loss and/or confusion.
It’s one more piece of evidence that quitting smoking is good not just for respiratory and cardiovascular reasons—but to preserve neurological health.
In the study, the team used data from the national 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
They compared subjective cognitive decline (SCD) measures for current smokers, recent former smokers, and those who had quit years earlier. The analysis included 136,018 people 45 and older, and about 11% reported SCD.
The team found the prevalence of SCD among smokers in the study was almost 1.9 times that of nonsmokers.
The prevalence among those who had quit less than 10 years ago was 1.5 times that of nonsmokers. Those who quit more than a decade before the survey had an SCD prevalence just slightly above the nonsmoking group.
The association was most significant in the 45-59 age group, suggesting that quitting at that stage of life may have a benefit for cognitive health.
A similar difference wasn’t found in the oldest group in the study, which could mean that quitting earlier affords people greater benefits.
These findings could imply that the time since smoking cessation does matter and may be linked to cognitive outcomes.
The team says the simplicity of SCD, a relatively new measure, could lend itself to wider applications.
Many people don’t have access to more in-depth screenings, or to specialists—making the potential applications for measuring SCD even greater.
If you care about brain health, please read studies about how alcohol, coffee and tea intake influence cognitive decline, and how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health.
The study was conducted by Jenna Rajczyk et al and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
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