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Secondhand Smoke May Significantly Increase Your Risk of "Senior Moments"

Secondhand smoke may increase the risk of cognitive impairment by over 40% according to a study published in the February 2009 issue of the British Medical Journal.

Most people know that smoking and secondhand smoke can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and cancer, but some may not realize that both can have damaging effects on cognitive health as well.

The recent study included 4,809 non-smoking adults over the age of 50 that were selected from the 1998-2001 Health Survey's for England (HSE). The HSE is an annual British survey which provides regular information on various aspects of the nation's health.

First, the British and American researchers measured saliva levels for a nicotine byproduct called cotinine in order to determine the amount of secondhand smoke the participants had been exposed to. Cotinine is usually present in saliva for about 25 hours after exposure to smoke.

Then they measured the participant's cognitive impairment using neuropsychological tests which evaluate memory, attention, math and verbal skills. The participants scoring in the lowest 10 percent on these tests were considered to have some level of cognitive impairment.

After reviewing the data, researchers found a 44% increase in risk for cognitive impairment among participants with the highest cotinine levels compared to those with the lowest.

Previous research has found an association between smoking and increased risk of Alzheimer's and dementia but this is the largest study to date which analyzes the relationship between cognitive impairment and secondhand smoke.

This study shows that passive smoking is not only detrimental to physical health but cognitive health as well, adding to an already long list of reasons to steer clear of cigarettes and second hand smoke.

According to Dr. Mark Eisner, an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, this study shows why public policy aimed at making all public spaces smoke free is so important for our nation's health.
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