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 Heavy Smokers and Heavy Drinkers Develop Alzheimer’s Earlier


People who are heavy drinkers and heavy smokers are believed to develop Alzheimer's years earlier than individuals who do not smoke or drink heavily, according to a new research study.  The author of this research is Ranjan Duara, MD, of the Wien Center for Alzheimer's disease at Mount Sinai Medical Center Miami, Florida, and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.  This study was also supported by the Florida Department of Elder affairs.

Dr. Duara stated that, "These results are significant because it's possible that if we can reduce or eliminate heavy smoking and drinking, we could substantially delay the onset of Alzheimer's disease for people, and reduce the number of people who have Alzheimer's at any point in time."  She went on to say that," It has been projected that a delay in the onset of the disease by five years would lead to a nearly 50% reduction in the total number of Alzheimer's cases."  Dr. Duara concluded "In this study, we found that the combination of heavy drinking and heavy smoking reduced the age of onset of Alzheimer's disease by six to seven years, making these two factors among the most important preventable risk factors for all Alzheimer's disease." 

The study involved 938 people, 60 and older who were either diagnosed with possible or probable Alzheimer's disease. The study involved the use of reports from family members on drinking and smoking history and in order to determine whether the participants had the APOE-4 gene variant of the APOE gene, which is believed to increase the risk of an individual getting Alzheimer's disease.  Individuals with the APOE-4 gene variant frequently develop Alzheimer's at an earlier age than those who do not have this specific gene. 

The study found that seven percent of the participants had a history of heavy drinking, which was defined as having more than two drinks a day. Twenty percent had a history of heavy smoking, which was defined as smoking one pack of cigarettes or more per day.  Ironically, 27% had the APOE-4 variant. 

Heavy smokers and drinkers were both found to have an earlier initial onset of Alzheimer's disease. Heavy drinkers have been found to develop Alzheimer’s 4.8 years earlier than those who are not heavy drinkers, and heavy smokers were found to have an initial onset 2.3 years earlier than people who are not heavy smokers. People with the APOE-4 variant of the gene developed the disease three years earlier than those without the variant. 

When researchers added all the risk factors together, they found that people who had all three risk factors develop the disease 8.5 years earlier than those with none of the risk factors. These individuals who meet the criteria for all three risk factors develop Alzheimer's disease at an average age of 68.5 years old.  The 374 people who did not meet the criteria for any of these risk factors developed the disease at an average age of 77 years old. 

This research was presented at the American Academy in neurology 60th anniversary and you'll meeting in Chicago, October 16, 2008 

American Academy of Neurology (2008, April 16). Alzheimer's Starts Earlier For Heavy Drinkers, Smokers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 25, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/04/080416081636.htm

Additional Information and webpage by Paul Susic MA Licensed Psychologist Ph.D. Candidate                                      

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