Men's Health

Smoking Speeds Men's Mental Decline

Men who smoke in middle age have a more rapid decline in memory, learning, and thinking than women who smoke. And the effects linger even after men quit smoking.

Photo of man smoking outdoors

The study underlines the dangers of smoking and emphasizes that quitting provides multiple health benefits - even if those benefits are not realized until several years later.

Researchers at the University College London looked at data on more than 5,100 men and 2,100 women who had three assessments of mental functions such as memory, learning, and thought-processing over a 10-year period. The participants also had smoking habit assessments over a 25-year period.

Impact of smoking

The researchers found that men who smoked experienced a faster decline in mental functioning. Men who continued to smoke during the follow-up period suffered an even greater decline.

Even those men who had quit smoking 10 years before their first assessment were still at risk for mental decline, especially in "executive function" - those skills that involve complex processes involved in planning and achieving goals.

Men who were long-term ex-smokers did not have the same rate of decline, however.

The study was published in the online edition of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

More research needed

Although the investigators agree that the study showed a link between smoking and mental decline in men, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

"The mechanism of how smoking results in increased [mental] decline remains unclear," says Marc Gordon, M.D., at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. Dr. Gordon was not involved with the research. "In this study, the effect was not explained by cardiovascular disease, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, or impaired lung function," he says.

The researchers found no link between smoking and decline in mental abilities in women, possibly because fewer women participated in the study. Also, a higher percentage of nonsmokers among the female participants had never smoked. Men tend to smoke more cigarettes.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Cancer Society - Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health

CDC - Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking - Quit Guide

April 2012

How to Help a Loved One Stop Smoking

Has a family member or friend decided it's time to throw out the cigarettes? Quitting smoking is one of the toughest things someone can go through.

You can help make the process easier by respecting the method your loved one uses to quit and by offering your support and understanding of what he or she is going through.

It's tempting to give advice, but it's better to simply ask what you can do to help your loved one quit. Let your friend know that you are there and that he or she can call you for support and encouragement.

Realize, too, that the person may be grumpy and cranky, especially during the first two weeks. Don't take it personally; it's the nicotine withdrawal talking.

Encouraging words are important. Praise your loved one for sticking with his or her plan and do something special to celebrate milestones.

If he or she breaks down and has a puff or two at some point, don't make a big deal out of it. Most people try to quit five to seven times before they kick the habit for good. So, try not to make him or her feel guilty. Stay supportive, and give credit for having made the effort.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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