The health risks from smoking cigarettes have been widely acknowledged and publicized over the last several decades. Now, in a study released last month by the prestigious King’s College in London, a strong correlation has been made between smoking and the health of the mind. The 8,800 study subjects came from all walks of life, were pretty evenly split between men and women, and for the most part, were over 50 years of age. One of the most unsettling claims from the research was that smoking was the most damaging to a person’s mental and physical health of all lifestyle choices one can make.
Scientists involved in the study, published in the journal Age and Ageing, said that smoking “rots” the brain and heightens the risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Heavy smokers in mid-life more than double their risk of Vascular Dementia because smoking constricts the blood vessels from properly supplying the brain with blood and oxygen. The relatively good news reported was that if smoking stopped by mid-life, the Dementia risk 20 years later was no different than that of people who had never smoked.
The study also indicated that brain damage, although to a lesser extent, is also a factor for those who have high blood pressure and are overweight, two health factors that are often common with professional drivers. Researchers conducted brain tests with individuals in which participants had to learn new words or name as many animals or other specific objects they could in a minute, as well as other brain games. The subjects were then tested on the same material after four and then again in eight years. The results showed that there was a consistent association between smoking and lower scores in the same tests over the years. They also showed that the overall risk of a heart attack or stroke was “significantly associated with cognitive decline” and those at highest risk – those with high blood pressure, overweight and still smoking – showing the greatest decline. Commenting on the study, the Alzheimer’s Society said that “One in three people over 65 will develop Dementia, but there are things people can do to reduce their risk…and not smoking can make a difference.”