Smoking and cognitive decline: A new study reveals key insights

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Smoking is a significant lifestyle factor linked to faster cognitive decline in older adults, according to a recent study led by researchers from University College London (UCL).

The study, published in Nature Communications, analyzed data from 32,000 adults aged 50 and over from 14 European countries, collected over a span of 10 years.

The researchers explored how different health-related behaviors, including smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and social contact, affected cognitive decline.

Cognitive function was assessed through memory and verbal fluency tests.

Participants were grouped based on their lifestyles: whether they smoked, engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity at least once a week, saw friends and family at least weekly, and drank alcohol in moderation (up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women).

The study found that cognitive decline was significantly faster in individuals who smoked. Over 10 years, smokers experienced cognitive scores that declined up to 85% more than those of non-smokers.

However, the decline was similar for all non-smoking lifestyles, regardless of other health-related behaviors.

An interesting exception was found among smokers who maintained healthy behaviors in other areas. Smokers who exercised regularly, drank alcohol in moderation, and socialized frequently had rates of cognitive decline similar to non-smokers.

This suggests that maintaining other healthy behaviors might help mitigate the negative cognitive effects of smoking.

Dr. Mikaela Bloomberg, the lead author from UCL Behavioral Science & Health, emphasized the observational nature of the study, meaning it cannot definitively prove cause and effect. However, the findings strongly suggest that smoking is a crucial factor influencing the rate of cognitive aging.

“Previous evidence indicates that individuals who engage in more healthy behaviors experience slower cognitive decline,” Dr. Bloomberg said.

“But it was unclear whether all behaviors contributed equally to cognitive decline or if specific behaviors were more influential. Our findings suggest that among the healthy behaviors we examined, not smoking may be among the most important for maintaining cognitive function.”

Dr. Bloomberg also highlighted that for people unable to quit smoking, engaging in other healthy behaviors like regular exercise, moderate alcohol consumption, and being socially active might help offset some of the adverse cognitive effects associated with smoking.

The researchers accounted for various factors that could have influenced the results, including age, gender, country, education, wealth, and chronic conditions. The data used in the study came from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA) and the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE).

In summary, this study underscores the significant impact of smoking on cognitive decline in older adults. While quitting smoking is the best option for cognitive health, maintaining other healthy lifestyle behaviors can also play a crucial role in preserving cognitive function as we age.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline.

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