Public Release: 

Smoking in later life linked to impaired intellect

Center for Advancing Health

Smoking in later life seems to be linked to intellectual impairment over the age of 65, suggests research in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Some previous studies have suggested that smoking may protect against Alzheimer¹s disease and dementia, both of which are associated with aging.

In a community survey of an area of North London, the research team from the Institute of Psychiatry, London, studied over 650 people aged 65 and over. Smoking and drinking habits were recorded at the beginning of the study. Their intellectual powers were also assessed. After excluding those who already had evidence of intellectual impairment, everyone else was followed up a year later to see if there was any evidence of a decline in intellect. The test used was similar to those used to screen for dementia and Alzheimer¹s disease.

Of the 417 people who could be retested at the end of the 12-month period, one in 16 had suffered significant intellectual decline. After adjusting for factors known to affect brain function in older people -- depression, general health, alcohol use, and educational levels -- the researchers found that smokers were up to four times more likely to have evidence of significant intellectual decline than either non-smokers or former smokers. Moderate drinkers before the age of 65 were marginally less likely to experience a decline in mental powers than either heavy, or non-drinkers.

Smoking contributes to vascular disease and atherosclerosis, conditions which narrow and harden the arteries and impair blood supply to all parts of the body, including the brain, say the authors. They conclude that the lower risk among ex-smokers suggests that right through to older age, people should be actively encouraged to stop smoking to stave off mental decline.


Contact: Dr. Jorge Cervilla, San Luis Hospital, Palencia, Spain. Email: or Dr. Martin Prince, Section of Epidemiology and General Practice, Institute of Psychiatry, University College, London. Tel: 020 7 848 0127 or 0207 927 2095 (Tuesday); Fax: 020 7 277 0283 Email:

[Smoking, drinking, and incident cognitive impairment: a cohort community based study included in the Gospel Oak Project. Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 2000; 68:622-6]

For further information about the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry or to obtain a copy of the article, please contact Public Affairs Division, British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9JP, Tel: 020 7383 6254 or email: After 6 p.m. and on weekends telephone: +44 (0)208 241 6386 / +44 (0)208 997 3653/+44 (0)208 674 6294 / +44 (0)1525 379792 / +44 (0)208 651 5130.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, (202) 387-2829.

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