According to a new Dutch study people over the age of 55 who are smokers put themselves at a far greater risk of developing dementia than people who do not smoke.
The researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam suggest the level of risk is 50% higher for smokers developing diseases such as Alzheimer's than for nonsmokers.
The researchers led by Dr. Monique Breteler conducted a study involving almost 7,000 people age 55 and older for an average of seven years.
During the study period 706 of the participants developed dementia and it was shown that current smokers at the time of the study were 50 percent more likely to develop dementia than people who had never smoked or past smokers.
Dr. Breteler says smoking could impact on the risk of dementia via several mechanisms; it increases the risk of cerebrovascular disease, which is also linked to dementia, or through oxidative stress, which can damage cells in the blood vessels and lead to hardening of the arteries.
Breteler says smokers experience greater oxidative stress than nonsmokers, and increased oxidative stress is also a feature of Alzheimer's disease.
Oxidative stress occurs when the body has too many free radicals, which are waste products produced by chemical reactions in the body.
Antioxidants in the diet can eliminate free radicals, and research has shown that smokers have fewer antioxidants in their diets than nonsmokers.
The researchers also examined the effect of smoking on the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease for people who have the gene that increases the risk, called apolipoprotein E4, or APOEå4.
They found that smoking did not increase the risk of Alzheimer's for those with the APOEå4 gene, but for those without the APOEå4 gene, smoking did in fact increase the risk.
Current smokers without the Alzheimer's gene were nearly 70 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer's than nonsmokers or past smokers without the Alzheimer's gene.
The study is published in the journal Neurology.