Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Smoking Cessation Health Center

Font Size

Smoking Speeds Dementia, Alzheimer's Disease

Smokers Decline Up to Five Times Faster Than Nonsmokers
WebMD Health News

March 22, 2004 -- Smokers have faster mental decline in elderly years -- up to fivefold faster, a new study shows.

Only a few studies have looked at this link between smoking and mental function in elderly people who don't have dementia or Alzheimer's disease. In recent studies, researchers have found a significantly increased risk of both dementia and Alzheimer's disease among smokers.

Smoking likely puts into effect a vicious cycle of artery damage, clotting, and increased risk of stroke causing mental decline, writes researcher A. Ott, MD, a medical microbiologist with Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.

Ott's study appears in this week's issue of the journal Neurology.

The study involves 9,200 men and women over age 65, who were interviewed in their homes about their health and lifestyle, and who took tests measuring their mental function -- these tests are standard measurement used to detect mental impairment in the elderly. They re-took the tests two years later.

Among participants:

  • 5% had a history of stroke
  • 14% had a history of heart attack
  • 93% of men smoked, compared with 71% of women
  • 84% of men had ever smoked, compared with 39% of women

When results of their mental tests scores were compared with smoking data, the results were:

  • Former smokers had 0.03 point per year greater decline in scores compared with never smokers.
  • Current smokers had 0.13 points greater decline per year in scores compared with never smokers.

The average yearly decline in mental test scores for never smokers was 0.03 points per year.


  • Higher rates of mental decline were found in men and in women -- and in persons with or without a family history of dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
  • The number of years a person smoked dramatically increased their rate of mental decline.

Although the study is quite large, there are drawbacks. Physical disability and emotional- or concentration-related problems could have made the mental function tests difficult for some, Ott points out.

Those who participated in both series of tests were likely the healthier people. Also, some people may have inaccurately reported their smoking habits, Ott explains.

Nevertheless, the study provides substantial evidence that chronic tobacco use is harmful to the brain and speeds up onset of Alzheimer's disease.

SOURCE: Ott, A. Neurology, March 23, 2004; vol 62: pp 920-924.

Today on WebMD

hands breaking a cigarette
Is quitting cold turkey an effective method?
14 tips to get you through the first hard days.
smoking man
Surprising impacts of tobacco on the body.
cigarette smoke
What happens when you kick the habit?

Filtered cigarettes
an array of e cigarettes
human heart
Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms

man smoking cigarette
no smoking sign
Woman ashing cigarette in ashtray
chain watch