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Is There a Link Between Alzheimer's Disease and Smoking?

By S. Mithra
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A few major studies have established a correlation between smoking and developing Alzheimer's Disease, but none are widespread or detailed enough to fully understand the link. Some early studies were retrospective, meaning they examined the smoking habits of those who had already developed Alzheimer's. Prospective studies followed smokers and non-smokers, administered tests, and measured mental acuity. As it stands, the decline in mental skills of the elderly is worse among smokers. However, in people who carry a gene that makes them susceptible to developing Alzheimer's, smoking seems to neither prevent nor speed the onset of the disease.

In 1998, a prospective study from Erasmus Medical School in the Netherlands, showed that smokers were twice as likely as those who never smoked to develop dementia associated with Alzheimer's Disease. All of the participants started out without symptoms of dementia, and were tested two years later to determine their mental acuity. This study also considered the "gene-environment" factors. It looked separately at people who carried the apolipoprotein E-4 gene that indicates they are more likely to develop Alzheimer's in their lifetime. Surprisingly, these carriers who smoked were not more likely than non-carriers to get dementia.

The same Medical Center published another study in 2004, showing that year to year, the rate of mental decline was significantly worse among those who smoked. In fact, they could even measure a difference between individuals who had smoked in the past, but since quit, and those who had not smoked their entire adult lives. The study was much larger than previous studies, involving almost 10,000 people over 65 years old. There is also increasing evidence that Alzheimer's Disease, as a neurological disorder, might also be considered a vascular disease. There are numerous, indisputable studies that prove smoking is detrimental to vascular health.

One complication in these studies is the tendency of smokers to die earlier than non-smokers from stroke, cancer, or heart disease. Thus, the studies are skewed toward those relatively healthy smokers that have not suffered serious health problems. Also, these studies rely on people's own reporting about their smoking habits, rather than collecting independent verification. Lastly, it has been shown that nicotine, when injected and not inhaled, can improve mental faculties, such as memory recall, of Alzheimer's patients. Certainly, further studies are needed to fully understand the causal relationship between Alzheimer's Disease and smoking.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments

By Sporkasia — On Jan 30, 2014

Animandel - Genes may prove to be a bigger factor as we learn more about Alzheimer's disease causes, but isn't it reassuring to learn that in some instances we can help prevent cases of the disease? One less person with the disease is one less family that has to go through what is a horrible ordeal.

By Animandel — On Jan 29, 2014

Unfortunately, smoking is not the only cause of Alzheimer's. I have a couple family members who have never smoked and yet are suffering from symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. I have also worked in a dementia and memory loss unit at an assisted living facility and more than half of the patients I worked with had never smoked.

I think genes are probably a bigger issue than smoking and other unhealthy habits. Of course, this means we must rely on science to find a way to combat a genetic condition, and this is scarier than simply having to change bad habits.

By Sporkasia — On Jan 28, 2014

Drentel - Yes, speaking on behalf of non-smokers I am pleased to hear scientists are learning more about the link between smoking and Alzheimer's disease. I am not pleased that smokers might be more likely to develop the disease, but at least scientists are identifying a habit, which can be curbed.

This is another step for disease prevention, which is so much better than disease treatment.

By Drentel — On Jan 27, 2014

So, smoking might be one of the causes of Alzheimer's disease. There's another reason not to start smoking, kids. And another reason for adults to quit. I'm sure all non-smokers are glad to read this article.

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