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Alzheimer's starts earlier for heavy drinkers, smokers

CHICAGO Heavy drinkers and heavy smokers develop Alzheimers disease years earlier than people with Alzheimers who do not drink or smoke heavily, according to research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology 60th Anniversary Annual Meeting in Chicago, April 1219, 2008.

These results are significant because its possible that if we can reduce or eliminate heavy smoking and drinking, we could substantially delay the onset of Alzheimers disease for people and reduce the number of people who have Alzheimers at any point in time, said study author Ranjan Duara, MD, of the Wien Center for Alzheimers Disease at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, FL, and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology.

It has been projected that a delay in the onset of the disease by five years would lead to a nearly 50-percent reduction in the total number of Alzheimers cases, said Duara. In this study, we found that the combination of heavy drinking and heavy smoking reduced the age of onset of Alzheimers disease by six to seven years, making these two factors among the most important preventable risk factors for Alzheimers disease.

The study looked at 938 people age 60 and older who were diagnosed with possible or probable Alzheimers disease. The researchers gathered information from family members on drinking and smoking history and determined whether the participants had the 4 gene variant of the APOE gene, which increases the risk of Alzheimers disease. People with the 4 variant also develop Alzheimers at an earlier age than those who do not have the gene variant.

Seven percent of the study participants had a history of heavy drinking, which was defined as more than two drinks per day. Twenty percent had a history of heavy smoking, which was defined as smoking one pack of cigarettes or more per day. And 27 percent had the APOE 4 variant.

Researchers found that people who were heavy drinkers developed Alzheimers 4.8 years earlier than those who were not heavy drinkers. Heavy smokers developed the disease 2.3 years sooner than people who were not heavy smokers. People with APOE 4 developed the disease three years sooner than those without the gene variant.

Adding the risk factors together led to earlier onset of the disease. People who had all three risk factors developed the disease 8.5 years earlier than those with none of the risk factors. The 17 people in the study with all three risk factors developed Alzheimers at an average age of 68.5 years; the 374 people with none of the three risk factors developed the disease at an average age of 77 years.


Contact: Rachel Seroka
American Academy of Neurology

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