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Smoking accelerates brain ageing - research

Published on 18 November 2015 12:01 AM

New research funded by Age UK shows that giving up smoking - even in later life - could help reverse the harmful effects it has on the brain.


The Disconnected Mind study at University of Edinburgh is the most recent and largest study of its kind. Scientists have found that smoking appears to accelerate the thinning of the outer layer of the brain (cortex) seen in normal brain ageing. This thinning can jeopardise important thinking skills such as planning, decision-making and problem-solving.

The good news is that those participants in the study who had given up smoking appeared to have a thicker cortex than more recent quitters, suggesting some degree of recovery. However, more research is needed to confirm these results with larger numbers of current smokers, studied over long periods of time.

Smoking, brain decline and dementia

The study suggests that avoiding smoking helps to maintain the normal thickness of the cortex, protecting against age-related cognitive decline. The research adds yet more weight to existing evidence showing a strong connection between smoking, brain decline and an increased risk of dementia.

'We all know smoking is bad for our lungs and heart, but it's important we also understand just how bad it is for our brain,' said Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK.

'While avoiding smoking is the best way to reduce the risk of brain decline, dementia and other cognitive diseases, this study gives new hope that quitting smoking, even in mid-life, can bring important benefits to the brain, as well as the rest of the body.'

For Later Life Conference, Wednesday 18 November

Age UK is highlighting the research ahead of its annual For Later Life Conference on Wednesday 18 November, which will focus on brain ageing and dementia. It will showcase exciting and innovative new approaches in the prevention and treatment of age-related cognitive impairment, joined by some of the leading thinkers, policy makers and service providers working in the field.

To reflect Age UK's increasing focus on protecting and improving brain health, the Charity, in partnership with AARP - the leading US not-for-profit organisation for people aged 50+ - has recently convened the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH).

The GCBH is an independent collaboration of scientists, doctors, scholars and policy experts, who will be developing and communicating trusted information on the actions people can take to support their brain health. It will examine key priority issue areas to improve brain health such as physical exercise, mental engagement, stress levels, and medications and supplements.

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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