According to the American Lung Association, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and causes over 438,000 deaths every year. Smoking damages the heart, lungs and the vascular system, and causes or worsens numerous diseases and conditions.

Studies have shown that smoking is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, as smokers are twice as likely to develop the disease as non-smokers. According to the research compiled at the University of Eastern Finland and Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, smoking more than two packs of cigarettes daily from age 50 to 60 doubles the risk of dementia later in later life.

For example, 25.4 percent of the participants in the study were diagnosed with dementia an average of 23 years later. Additionally, of the individuals in that group of over 20,000 who had dementia, 1,136 were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and 416 of the participants later developed vascular dementia.

Since smoking is a well-established risk factor for strokes, it also can contribute to the risk of vascular dementia through similar means.

The studies also found that smoking contributes to the oxidative stress and inflammation, two components believed to be significant in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and that smoking affects the development of dementia through vascular and neurodegenerative pathways.

Researchers also probed former smokers to gather data on increased risk of dementia. Findings concluded that former smokers or individuals who smoked less than half a pack per day did not appear to be at an increased risk for developing dementia. Further, associations between dementia and smoking did not vary by race or gender.

The link between smoking and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia has long been controversial, yet the study showed that the brain is not immune to the long-term consequences of heavy smoking. The impact is likely to become even greater as the population ages and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia continues to rise.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494,, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.