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There is strong evidence that smoking can increase your risk of developing dementia. Not everyone who smokes will get dementia, but stopping smoking is thought to reduce your risk back down to the level of non-smokers. 

Some reasons behind this include the fact that the two most common forms of dementia, Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia, have both been linked to problems with the vascular system (your heart and blood vessels). It is known that smoking increases the risk of vascular problems, including via strokes or smaller bleeds in the brain, which are also risk factors for dementia. 

In addition, toxins in cigarette smoke increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which have both been linked to developing of Alzheimer's disease.

What does the research say?

Research that studies the relationship between smoking and dementia directly is complex for several reasons. These include:

  • There are many different chemicals and toxins in cigarette smoke so it is unclear which ones would be causing damage.  There is some evidence that one (nicotine) actually reduces the risk of dementia. 

  • As smoking is a leading cause of premature death, many smokers are likely to die before they reach the age at which dementia will develop.  It is possible therefore that smokers who survive to old age may have particular traits, for example genetics, that mean they are not representative of the whole population. Studies involving these people may now give an accurate idea of the risk to the population as a whole.  

  • Some population studies compare people and their smoking habits at one particular point in time. These studies may not produce completely accurate data, because they require people to remember how much they smoked, and people may not be able to this accurately, especially if they already have symptoms of dementia. A more accurate way to gather this data is to follow a large amount of people over a long period of time, and record their smoking habits as part of the study. 

  • Many of the lifestyle risk factors for dementia are hard to separate out. For example, people who smoke a lot are more likely to consume alcohol, another known risk factor for dementia. 

  • There is evidence that some studies that found potential protective effects of tobacco were influenced by the tobacco industry.

As there have been many studies, it is better to combine these in order to obtain the most consistent findings.  This is done using a process called a systematic review. The World Alzheimer's Report 2014 examines the findings from seven systematic reviews and also carries out its own. A total of 14 studies were included in the review, and the researchers found that there was a statistically significant increased risk of dementia in current smokers compared to people who have never smoked. 

Smoking was also one of the nine modifiable risk factors highlighted in the 2017 Lancet Commission on dementia risk.

Dementia Revolution

Dame Barbara Windsor has thanked the public from the bottom of her heart as a team of her friends and family hit their £100,000 fundraising target today, two days ahead of the Virgin Money London Marathon.

The moment follows an outpouring of public support for ‘Barbara's Revolutionaries’ as they’ve been speaking out about dementia and the need for research funding in the lead-up to the event.

After Dame Barbara and her husband Scott Mitchell revealed her diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease last year, Scott agreed to take on the challenge of the London Marathon to raise funds for the Dementia Revolution. The Dementia Revolution is a one-year partnership by Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer's Research UK as Charity of the Year for the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon. 

Alongside eight of Barbara’s former cast-mates and EastEnders stars (Adam Woodyatt, Jake Wood, Emma Barton, Natalie Cassidy, Kellie Shirley, Tanya Franks, Jamie Borthwick and Jane Slaughter), self-confessed ‘non-runner’ Scott has been training since October and set an ambitious target to raise £100,000 to power groundbreaking research at the UK Dementia Research Institute. 

The group is now hoping they will far exceed their target and help the wider campaign to hit £3.5m raised for dementia research. They joined almost 2,000 runners on the start-line on Sunday running to raise money for the Dementia Revolution.

Here are 5 ways to help break the stigma around dementia. 

1. See the person, not the dementia

Remind the person telling the joke that dementia is not the defining aspect of a person, their personality, or their life. 

2. It's not funny for everybody

Ask them how a person with dementia would feel about their comment if they saw or heard it. What one person may find funny can quickly cause offence for someone else.

3. Unkind jokes contribute to the stigma

Explain that ignorant comments and jokes only increase the stigma around dementia. By telling the joke, they are making it harder to break the stigma for people affected by dementia now and in the future.

4. Don't spread wrong information

Many hurtful jokes rely on stereotypes, misinformation and myths. Let the person know that they can find accurate, reliable information about dementia from the Alzheimer’s Society website.

5. Be open to learn more

Encourage them to find out more and become one of the Dementia Friends. The Dementia Friends initiative is the largest in the UK, helping change the way the public thinks, feels and talks about dementia. Attending a Dementia Friends Information Session is a good way of learning more and changing behaviour

© 2019 Dementia Friendly Baildon

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