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Smoking 'threat to mental health'

Published on 26 November 2012 11:30 AM

Mental decline speeds up in people aged over 50 who have high blood pressure and who smoke, a study suggests.

Tests were carried out on around 8,000 older adults in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.


Scientists looked at data of risk factors relating to overall mental ability as well as planning and memory, measured after four years and eight years. After four years, the data showed smoking consistently hampered performance in all three areas.

The lowest scores recorded for both overall mental ability and memory are linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke, the researchers said. They also linked bad memory to being overweight.

They said future tests on mental decline need to hone in on risk-factor combinations as opposed to individual factors.

According to lead researcher Dr Alex Dregan, who works out of King's College London, decline in cognitive functioning is common among older people and can disrupt even the most simple of everyday tasks, as well as an individual's general wellbeing.

'Some older people can become forgetful, have trouble remembering common words or have problems organising daily tasks more than others,' he said.

Crucial information for future treatment

Several risk factors were found to be potentially linked to mental decline and all of them can be altered to improve someone's life, Dr Dregan said.

The study provides crucial information for treatment in the future, he added.

The Alzheimer's Society's Jessica Smith said most people understand that too much cholesterol, having a high body-mass index and high blood pressure, combined with smoking, can all damage the heart.

She said the new study shows all these risk factors may be bad for the head also.

One-third of people over 65 will develop some form of dementia but the risk of this can be reduced with intervention, she added.

Ms Smith said the difference can be made by eating better food to ensure a balanced diet, keeping a healthy body weight and maintaining a certain amount of exercise, as well as getting checked regularly for high blood pressure and levels of cholesterol.

Last but not least, stopping smoking can be one of the most healthy moves a person can make, she said.

The findings were published in the journal Age and Ageing.

Age UK is funding research into mental decline

Age UK's Disconnected Mind project funds cutting edge research into the causes of age-related mental decline.

Professor James Goodwin, Head of Research at Age UK, commented: 'With 1 million people in the UK experiencing mental decline with age, research into the causes is essential. These latest results coincide with findings from the Age UK-funded Disconnected Mind project, which is based on study of 1,000 people in their 70s living in the Lothian area.

'The project is comprehensively examining multiple risk factors - physical, mental and environmental - for changes in thinking skills as we age and has been reported in the world's leading scientific journals. Indications so far are that a range of factors is involved and the researchers are working hard to find more vital clues as to what impacts the way our brain ages.

Professor Goodwin continued: 'While more research needs to be done, giving up smoking, taking exercise and eating a healthy diet is good advice at any age and may help protect our mental health as well as physical health as we age.'

Find out more about Age UK's Disconnected Mind project or donate to support this research

Copyright Press Association 2012

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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