The findings build on previous research that established links between smoking and Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and may point to an opportunity to identify signs of trouble earlier in life.
There is also further evidence that quitting smoking is not only good for respiratory and cardiovascular reasons – but also for maintaining neurological health.
The association they observed was most significant in the 45-59 age group, suggesting that quitting at that stage of life may have benefits for cognitive health. The study did not find a similar difference in the oldest group, which may mean that quitting earlier benefits people more.
Watch smoking habits for early signs of dementia
Data for the study came from the national 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey and allowed the research team to compare subjective cognitive decline (SCD) measures for current smokers, recent smokers and people who quit years ago gives. The analysis included 136,018 people 45 and older, and about 11% reported SCD.
The prevalence of SCD among smokers in the study was approximately 1.9 times higher than among nonsmokers. Those who quit smoking less than 10 years ago had a risk of 1.5 times that of nonsmokers. Those who had quit smoking for more than a decade prior to the survey had a prevalence of SCD only slightly above the non-smoking group.
These findings may imply that time following smoking cessation matters, and may be associated with cognitive outcomes. The simplicity of SCD, a relatively new measure, may lend itself to a wide range of applications.
Many people do not have access to more intensive screening or specialists – making the potential applications for measuring SCD even greater.
Keep in mind that these self-reported experiences do not amount to a diagnosis, nor do they independently confirm that a person is experiencing decline in the normal aging process. But, he said, they can be a low-cost, simple tool to consider employing more broadly.