Smoking, death, and Alzheimer disease: a case of competing risks

Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2012 Oct-Dec;26(4):300-6. doi: 10.1097/WAD.0b013e3182420b6e.


If smoking is a risk factor for Alzheimer disease (AD) but a smoker dies of another cause before developing or manifesting AD, smoking-related mortality may mask the relationship between smoking and AD. This phenomenon, referred to as competing risk, complicates efforts to model the effect of smoking on AD. Typical survival regression models assume that censorship from analysis is unrelated to an individual's probability for developing AD (ie, censoring is noninformative). However, if individuals who die before developing AD are younger than those who survive long enough to develop AD, and if they include a higher percentage of smokers than nonsmokers, the incidence of AD will appear to be higher in older individuals and in nonsmokers. Further, age-specific mortality rates are higher in smokers because they die earlier than nonsmokers. Therefore, if we fail to take into account the competing risk of death when we estimate the effect of smoking on AD, we bias the results and are in fact only comparing the incidence of AD in nonsmokers with that in the healthiest smokers. In this study, we demonstrate that the effect of smoking on AD differs in models that are and are not adjusted for competing risks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / etiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / mortality*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*