Smoking can double the risk of dementia - Alzheimer Society of Ireland

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland and ASH Ireland have warned of the strong association between smoking and dementia risk.

While diseases such cancer, stroke and heart disease are well documented, not many are aware of the direct links between tobacco and the raised incidence of dementia 

There are 48,000 people living with dementia in Ireland, a figure set to treble in a generation. Next year, 11 people a day will develop dementia in Ireland with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland (ASI ) estimating the average annual cost per person with dementia at €40,500. By 2041 there will be 132,000 cases, according to projections.

However, dementia is not an inevitable part of ageing. While not all cases are preventable, there is a lot can be done to reduce risk, one of which is by reducing smoking.

Overall, research shows that smokers have a 50 per cent greater chance of developing dementia than those who have never smoked, but this decreases substantially upon stopping smoking.

Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke which are also underlying risk factors for dementia. Specifically, smoking increases total plasma homocysteine (an amino acid that synthesizes proteins ), high levels of which increase the risk of stroke and cognitive impairment.

Smoking also accelerates atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty substances, leading to a narrowing of the blood vessels in the heart and brain that can deprive brain cells of oxygen.

Thirdly, smoking can cause oxidative stress, which arises from the body’s interaction with oxygen. Oxidative stress is separately implicated as a causal factor in Alzheimer’s disease and has an impact on the body’s ageing process.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 14 per cent of cases of Alzheimer’s disease worldwide are potentially attributable to smoking.

Tina Leonard, head of advocacy and public affairs with the ASI said: “On World Alzheimer Day we are calling for dementia prevention to be integrated into national public health programmes now alongside other major non-communicable diseases as we fight the growing prevalence of this condition.

“Current health promotion in Ireland ignores modifiable risk factors for dementia. The Department of Health’s Tobacco Free Policy highlights the associations between smoking and premature mortality, cancers, and respiratory diseases but not the established links between smoking and dementia. It’s high time the concept of brain health underpinned our leading health policies if we have a chance of stemming this tide.” 

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