One-in-ten cigarette smokers in their 40s suffer cognitive decline

According to one study, smoking can cause a person to experience cognitive decline in their 40s.

A study of 136,018 participants over the age of 45 by a team at Ohio State University (OSU) found that 10 percent of middle-aged or older smokers suffer from memory loss and confusion. Overall, smokers were twice as likely to have brain problems as their peers.

Kicking the bad habit can stop the fall. Former smokers who quit more than a decade ago were at a 50 percent risk of brain problems – half that of current smokers.

Cognitive problems are rare in middle-aged people, as the brain does not begin to lose function until age 65 in most cases. Smoking has been associated with many important health problems later in life, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer, among others. Women are more likely than men to experience cognitive decline.

Researchers found that smoking can cause people to experience cognitive decline even at age 45 (file photo)

Researchers found that smoking can cause people to experience cognitive decline even at age 45 (file photo)

Smoking has long been associated with an increased risk of developing cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s, but these problems are rare to occur in middle-aged people.

For their study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the researchers looked at a sample of nearly 140,000 people about their smoking habits and whether they experienced memory loss during that time.

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They found that eight percent of people who had never smoked in their lives experienced cognitive decline.

Meanwhile, 16 percent of current smokers reported experiencing brain problems and memory loss.

Many of these smokers were at an age considered too young to deal with these problems.

Just under 10 percent of participants aged 45 to 49 reported brain problems when surveyed—almost all of these were among smokers, the researchers said.

The rate of reported cognitive problems was similar among survey participants in their fifties.

Differences in cognitive decline between smokers and nonsmokers drastically diminished later in life, as many people at this point develop conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia for a variety of reasons.

What is Alzheimer’s?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative brain disease in which a buildup of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.

This disrupts the message-carrying transmitters and causes the brain to shrink.

More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, which is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.


As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.

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This includes memory, orientation, and the ability to think and reason.

The progression of the disease is slow and gradual.

On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, although some may live ten to 15 years.


  • short term memory loss
  • disorientation
  • behavioral changes
  • Mood
  • Difficulty dealing with money or making phone calls


  • severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
  • Worried and frustrated about not making sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior
  • Eventually loses the ability to walk
  • May have eating problems
  • The majority will eventually need 24-hour care

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

D., senior author of the study and professor of epidemiology at OSU.

Yet quitting smoking can undo some of the damage. About 12 percent of survey participants who quit more than a decade ago reported cognitive problems.

That’s still a 50 percent increase over the base group of non-smokers, a significant decrease compared to non-smokers.

People who quit smoking in the last ten years had a 13 percent risk of developing the condition, slightly higher than those who quit for a long time.

“These findings may imply that the time it takes to quit smoking is important and may be linked to cognitive outcomes,” said Jenna Rajczyk, a doctoral student at OSU who led the research.

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“It’s a simple assessment that can easily be done routinely, and typically at a younger age, we begin to see cognitive declines that escalate to the level of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia,” he continued.

“It’s not a dense set of questions. Determining whether you feel like you’re not as sharp as you once were is more of a personal reflection of your cognitive state.”

The study only took self-reported samples of cognitive problems and did not collect any data on clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Symptoms of the devastating condition often begin to appear decades before a patient is able to be diagnosed, and it is rare for a middle-aged person to be told they have the condition by a doctor.

Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia in the United States. It affects approximately 6.5 million Americans aged 65 and over.

The number of Americans exposed to the condition is expected to double in the next 20 years, as longer lifespans will lead to more cases over time.

There is no known cure for the condition, and treatments available to slow disease progression are sparse.


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