Too Old to Quit? – Seniors and Smoking
Smoking among seniors raises more questions than answers. The ideal, of course, would be that everyone, young and old, quit smoking for good. But the flip side of that is, if elderly smokers have reached advanced age, while still being smokers, would it not be harder for them to quit?
Would they reap any of the benefits of quitting smoking? What would the benefits be, if they ultimately decided to quit?
And since quitting is so difficult, even for the healthy, wouldn’t the stress and frustration associated with quitting put undue duress on seniors in their autumn years? We’ll try to answer the preceding questions in the article below.
The Odds Against
Of all the population groups in the United States, smoking rates are highest among those between the ages of 18 and 45 than those 65 and older. Still, almost 8.4% of Americans 65 and older are smokers.
Smoking among seniors has many adverse health effects. Apparently, smoking-related diseases occur most commonly among the elderly. In fact, the chances of smoking-related diseases occurring during old age increase the longer a person continues smoking.
The myth that having survived into old age as a smoker means there won’t be any health-related consequences is just that, a myth. A majority (70%) of the near 400,000 smoking-related deaths that occur every year in the United States occur among Americans aged 60 and older.
Faced with these statistics, helping seniors to quit smoking may seem like the more sensible option. And rather than confronting them with grim statistics, sharing the health benefits of quitting smoking would be a more appropriate form of motivation.
Smoking and Seniors: Benefits of Quitting
Regardless of age group, there are many benefits of smoking and more often than not, they take immediate effect. For older adults, however, there are many reasons to quit that would specifically benefit them.
Some of the more general benefits of quitting smoking for the elderly include:
- Improved senses – cigarette smoke is notorious for robbing people of the full experience of their senses, specifically taste and smell. Quitting smoking restores those senses, making food taste and smell better
- Lower levels of carbon monoxide means oxygen can travel more quickly in the blood
- Easier breathing – lung function dramatically improves only a few days after a person quits, which then leads to more chances to exercise, making everyday life easier
- Saving money – For seniors on a fixed income keeping up with a costly habit can put a strain on their pocketbook, life without smoking may help them save money when they need it the most
The many health reasons to help motivate seniors to quit smoking are:
- A British study found that among the elderly who smoke, frailty and loss of bone density occur much more often than they do for seniors who do not smoke
- Smoking is known to cause higher rates of macular degeneration (vision problems), colon cancer, diabetes, and arthritis, all of which adversely affect the elderly population
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a respiratory condition brought on specifically by smoking, and those who suffer from COPD have higher chances of developing other chronic conditions like osteoporosis, which in turn has a cascade effect on an aged person, such as contributing to a poorer quality of life, dementia, and loss of mobility
- Built-up phlegm in the lungs is responsible for most of the nagging coughs in seniors who smoke, quitting helps reduce those pesky, chronic coughs
Smoking and Seniors: Helping Them Quit
Seniors should take heart that, while fewer older adults attempt to quit, those who do experience more success than their younger counterparts. Evidently, the first thing to do when trying to help an elderly loved one quit smoking, is to make sure they want to quit.
Despite all the health risks associated with smoking, the decision to quit is still a personal one. No one should be forced to quit if they sincerely do not wish to quit or do not feel like they have the necessary motivation to see it through to the end.
With that said, however, for those seniors looking to quit there are many options available. Here are some steps to take to help a senior quit smoking:
- Establishing a Quit Day – Marking the calendar for a specific day to quit smoking is a great way to motivate and focus a person, regardless of their age. Setting a quit day gives a senior time to create an executable plan to help them manage withdrawals, try various nicotine replacement therapies. It’s important however to set the date only three weeks in the future, so seniors don’t lose motivation during this time
- Prepare coping skills and techniques – Many smokers have a difficult time focusing on what to do when they are trying not to smoke, seniors go through the same thing. The time before their quit day should be a time to prepare a coping and support system to help them through withdrawal. Learning coping techniques (drinking water, chewing gum, exercising) may help them when their quit day finally arrives
- Support – Seniors trying to quit for good might need support from friends and loved ones during this time. Offering them fun activities where people aren’t smoking, and involving them in social events are just some of the ways that you can help them keep their mind off of smoking
- Nicotine replacement therapies – Seniors can benefit from the same smoking cessation practices as anyone else, with the more popular ones being nicotine replacement therapies. Seniors can consult their doctor about which therapies like patches or gums, might be best for them
More Time Left
Seniors should not be dissuaded from trying to quit smoking simply because of their age. As shown above, there are many noticeable and immediate benefits associated with quitting smoking especially once over the age of 65.
Seniors can try many of the same smoking cessation aids that the rest of the population uses.
While it is true that the benefits of quitting smoking may occur less rapidly in seniors, quitting remains the best way to lower the risks of being afflicted by smoking-related diseases.