Resume: Middle-aged smokers are more likely to report memory problems and cognitive decline than non-smokers. The likelihood of cognitive decline is lower for those who have quit smoking, the researchers report.
Fountain: Ohio State University
Middle-aged smokers are much more likely to report memory loss and confusion than non-smokers, and the likelihood of cognitive decline is lower for those who have quit smoking, even recently, a new study found.
The Ohio State University research is the first to examine the relationship between smoking and cognitive decline using a one-question self-assessment that asks people if they have experienced worsening or more frequent memory loss and/or confusion.
The findings build on previous research establishing links between smoking and Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and could point to an opportunity to identify signs of trouble at an earlier age, said Jenna Rajczyk, the study’s lead author, who appears in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s also further evidence that quitting smoking is good not only for respiratory and cardiovascular reasons, but also for preserving neurological health, said Rajczyk, Ph.D. student at Ohio State College of Public Health, and lead author Jeffrey Wing, assistant professor of epidemiology.
“The association we saw was most significant in the 45-59 age group, suggesting that quitting at that stage of life may have a benefit for cognitive health,” Wing said. A similar difference was not found in the older age group of the study, which could mean that quitting earlier offers greater benefits to people, she said.
Data for the study comes from the 2019 National Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
survey and allowed the research team to compare measures of subjective cognitive decline (SCD) for current smokers, recent ex-smokers, and those who had quit years before. The analysis included 136,018 people aged 45 years and older, with approximately 11% reporting SCD.
The prevalence of SCD among smokers in the study was nearly 1.9 times that of nonsmokers. The prevalence among those who had quit smoking less than 10 years ago was 1.5 times higher than that of non-smokers. Those who quit smoking more than a decade before the survey had a slightly higher prevalence of SCD than the group of non-smokers.
“These findings could imply that time since quitting is important and may be related to cognitive outcomes,” Rajczyk said.
The simplicity of SCD, a relatively new measure, could lend itself to broader applications, he said.
“This is a simple assessment that could easily be done routinely, and at earlier ages than we normally start to see cognitive declines that rise to the level of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia,” Rajczyk said.
“It is not an intensive battery of questions. It’s more of a personal reflection of your cognitive state to determine if you feel like you’re not as smart as you used to be.”
Many people don’t have access to more in-depth screening or specialists, making the potential applications for measuring SCD even greater, he said.
Wing said it’s important to note that these self-reported experiences do not equate to a diagnosis, nor do they independently confirm that a person is experiencing a decline outside of the normal aging process. But, he told her, they could be a simple and low-cost tool to consider using more widely.
About this research news on memory and smoking
original research: Open access.
“Relationship between smoking and subjective cognitive decline in midlife and older adults: a cross-sectional analysis of data from the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Systemby Jenna I. Rajczyk et al. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease
Relationship between smoking and subjective cognitive decline in midlife and older adults: a cross-sectional analysis of data from the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System
Background: Smoking may influence subjective cognitive impairment (SCD); however, few studies have evaluated this association. Objective: To assess whether smoking is associated with SCD in middle-aged and older adults, and to determine whether this association is modified by sex at birth.
Methods: A cross-sectional analysis was conducted using data from the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey to analyze the relationship between SCD and smoking (current, past recent, and past remote). Eligible respondents included participants 45 years of age or older who responded to the SCD and tobacco questions of interest. Survey-weighted Poisson regression models were used to estimate crude and adjusted prevalence ratios (cPR/aPR) and corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI) of the association between smoking and SCD. A Wald test was calculated to determine the significance of the interaction term between smoking and sex (α= 0.05).
Results: There were 136,018 eligible respondents, of whom approximately 10% had SCD. There was a graded association between smoking and SCD, with the highest prevalence of SCD among current smokers (aPR = 1.87; CI: 1.54, 2.28), followed by recent ex-smokers (aPR = 1.47 ; 95% CI: 1.02, 2.12), and remote ex-smokers (aPR = 1.11; 95% CI: 0.93, 1.33) each compared with never smokers. There was no evidence of effect modification by gender (p interaction = 0.73).
Conclution: The consistency of smoking as a risk factor for objective and subjective cognitive decline supports the need for future studies to increase the evidence on whether changes in smoking status affect cognition in midlife.