National non-smoking day: Smoking and dementia

Published at 01 March, 2023 14:28.

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Thinking of quitting? There's no better time than now, especially with national non-smoking day coming up. This year we will be discussing the research surrounding smoking related diseases, with a particular focus on the relationship between smoking and dementia. 

What is national non-smoking day?  

National non-smoking day is held on the 8th of March - it is a time where the general public reaches out to their loved ones suffering from a nicotine addiction. This day has the aim of reducing the stigma around smoking and the dangers of first-hand and second-hand smoke. 

By reducing this stigma we hope for smokers to get the love and support they need whilst trying to quit smoking. It can also be an empowering day for past-smokers to celebrate what they have achieved by quitting. 

The history of national non-smoking day

National non-smoking day first originated in the Republic of Ireland in 1984 on Ash Wednesday; when the clergy noted that cigarettes would be a good thing to give up for lent. Between now and then, an official date of the 8th of March has been specifically given for the day. 

Smoking was first associated with cancer in the 1920s, when medical reports spotted links between the two. This was confirmed in the 1950s and 1660s when extensive research confirmed tobacco could cause serious diseases - resulting in reduced smoking from members of the public.

Following on from this research, companies such as the British Heart Foundation started producing marketing materials and advertisements broadcasting the dangers of smoking. This further reduced the number of people smoking. 

With World Health Organisations stating that tobacco kills up to half of its users, equating to an average of 8 million people per year (7 million deaths from direct tobacco use and 1.2 million from second-hand smoke exposure). It is more important than ever to have these themed days aimed to help people suffering from nicotine addiction. 

Although these statistics are worrying, active efforts to warn the public about the danger of smoking and days like ‘national non-smoking day’ have helped to positively decline smoking levels. 

Smoking related diseases: what is dementia?

Dementia is a progressive neurological condition that affects cognitive functions, such as memory and problem solving. Currently there is an average of more than 850,000 people in the UK who suffer from this devastating disease, equating to one in 14 people over the age of 65 and 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 being diagnosed with dementia. 

It is commonly caused by brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia like vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. But It can also be caused by head trauma, stroke, or a combination of multiple conditions.

Symptoms of dementia may include memory loss and confusion, difficulty with language and communication, disorientation in time and place, difficulty performing routine tasks and changes in personality or behaviour. Over time these symptoms become increasingly severe, leading to greater impairment in daily functioning.

Treatment for dementia depends on the type of dementia but may involve medications to manage symptoms, alongside improved lifestyle habits like regular exercise and proper nutrition. Other treatments include cognitive stimulation therapies such as music or art therapy which can help improve cognitive functioning.

Smoking and dementia

As mentioned earlier, in this blog we will be talking about how smoking can increase the likelihood of later developing dementia (including Alzeimer’s disease and vascular dementia). 

Does smoking cause dementia?

Although the exact mechanism of how smoking causes dementia is not well understood as of yet, it is believed to be related to changes in the brain's anatomy due to nicotine exposure.

It could also be due to tobacco increasing the accumulation of beta-amyloid protein deposits within the brain—a key hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Another explanation includes changes in blood flow, which can lead to reduced oxygen and nutrient supply to the memory centres in the brain—an event which can ultimately bring about cognitive decline and memory loss associated with dementia.

Furthermore, studies have also found that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop a form of mild cognitive impairment known as ‘amnestic MCI’, which is characterised by difficulties with memory recall and other executive functions. This can sometimes progress into full-blown dementia if left unchecked. In particular, recent studies suggest that individuals who participate in heavy smoking for years may be more prone to developing this type of impairment compared with those who smoke only occasionally or not at all.

Overall, given its potential detrimental effects on brain health and cognition, it appears clear that smoking could very well be a causal factor behind certain types of dementia.

Could this national non-smoking day be your sign to quit for good?

A steady average of 5.9% of Brits have quit smoking per year since 2007, could this national non-smoking day be your sign to quit? For help and advice contact our friendly, empathetic team today.