Study Links Smoking With Brain Changes and Memory Decline

Smoking is an important risk factor in brain shrinkage and a decline in brain function in later years, a new study suggests. The study found smoking, along with high blood pressure, diabetes and excess weight, all contributed to potentially dangerous changes in the brain that could lead to a decline in mental functioning as soon as 10 years later. The study appears in the journal Neurology.

HealthDay reports the study included 1,352 people without dementia whose average age was 54. Each person was weighed, measured, given blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes tests and underwent brain MRI scans over 10 years. The researchers found smokers lost brain volume overall and in the hippocampus—the part of the brain which converts short-term memory into long-term memory—at a faster rate than nonsmokers. They were also more likely to have a rapid increase in small areas of damage to the brain’s blood vessels.

Study author Charles DeCarli, M.D., of the University of California at Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said in a journal news release, “Our findings provide evidence that identifying these risk factors early in people of middle age could be useful in screening people for at-risk dementia and encouraging people to make changes to their lifestyle before it’s too late.”

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    Sandra, Vancouver, Canada

    August 6, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    By the age of 54 years, most smokers in my community have tried to quit several times, with various methods, medically supported and not, without permanent success. Perhaps this alarming study, and group support, along with novel or combined methods might help more people quit. Most people have many fearful and expensive motivations to quit tobacco, or nicotine replacement (which may have a similar effect on brain function). This can be an extremely difficult addiction to overcome.

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