Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate
There cannot be anyone left in America who is not aware of the dangers to your health from smoking cigarettes. We label packs of cigarettes with the direst possible warnings. We prevent most form of advertising cigarettes. We try our best to protect children from access to tobacco. We restrict exposure to cigarettes and their smoke by nonsmokers.
Nevertheless, nearly one in five Americans still smokes according to the Centers for Disease Control Eleven million of them are over the age of 50 years old, 25% of the total of nearly 44 million people. The good news: in a recent CDC study, nearly 70% of smokers say they want to quit.
Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease. Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke kill some 443,000 people every year in the U.S. In addition, for every smoking-related death there are 20 people living with a smoking-related disease, the CDC reports.
If cancer, heart attacks or strokes do not motivate you enough to quit smoking, how about the risk of Alzheimer’s disease? New research by Kaiser Permanente in California and the University of Eastern Finland has established a firm link between smoking and the onset of dementia in your senior years. Middle aged men and women who were at least 50 years old at the start of the study were followed for 20 years.
The results: one in four study participants were diagnosed with dementia. A quarter of these people were found to have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. But vascular dementia, where the brain is impaired by damage to the blood vessels, was responsible for several hundred more of the diagnoses in the study.
Since smoking is a major risk factor for stroke, it is possible that smoking contributes to vascular dementia in the same way by narrowing blood vessels and depriving brain cells of oxygen.
People who smoke two packs of cigarettes a day during middle age face a 157% increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a 172% greater risk of developing vascular dementia compared to nonsmokers.
No matter your age, you have every reason to quit now. The good news: it is never too late to quit and the benefits are almost immediate. Even if you have smoked for decades, the benefits begin within 20 minutes of your last cigarette. Your circulation and lung function will improve. Your blood pressure drops. You will have more stamina and energy due to increased ability to absorb oxygen. You may be able to reduce medication. Your social opportunities will increase because your hair, clothing, and home doesn’t smell. You will save money. Your self-esteem will soar.
According to the National Institute of Health, once they quit smoking older smokers are more likely to quit for good than younger smokers. They are more motivated to quit due to a greater impact on their health. Older smokers enjoy a feeling of relief that feeds long-term success.
Alzheimer’s is second only to cancer as the disease most feared by Americans, and with very good reason. One in eight Baby Boomers will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Why increase your odds unnecessarily?
Over five million Americans have been stricken with dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. This number will be swiftly rising, as the baby boomers become senior citizens. It is expected that the number of people diagnosed will be three times its current tally by the year 2050. And, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia triples health care costs for those it afflicts.
If you smoke, please consider quitting. If you have a family member or friend who smokes, support their efforts to quit. Seek out programs such as the American Lung Association’s free “Freedom From Smoking” program. Senior smokers are more likely to quit for good when they have social support systems.
Every smoker who quits potentially saves their physical and their mental health, as well as saving money for themselves as individuals, and for society as a whole. Worldwide, one billion people still smoke, including three of every four men over the age of 30 in China. Truly, we have seen only the tip of the Alzheimer’s iceberg headed our way.
Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!