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Smoking Cessation In Older People

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Smoking can cause severe health issues and can shorten life. However, quitting the habit at any time can improve health and add years to life.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Published At January 27, 2023
Reviewed AtFebruary 6, 2024

Introduction

Quitting smoking may be hard to achieve, especially for a person who has been smoking for years. With age, health issues may worsen or start showing altered symptoms. Smoking is a psychological habit, and the nicotine content can cause physical addiction. It usually takes several attempts to quit the habit once the person gets addicted. Willpower is the key to successfully saying a complete ‘NO’ to smoking.

What Diseases Are Caused by Smoking?

  • Lung Conditions: Smoking harms the airways and lungs, and it can occasionally result in chronic bronchitis (lung conditions that result in breathing difficulties and airflow obstruction). Emphysema, which damages the lungs and makes breathing extremely difficult, can also be brought on by it.

  • Heart Conditions: Smoking raises the risk of stroke and heart attack.

  • Cancer: Cancer of the mouth, larynx (voice box), esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, and cervix can result from smoking.

  • Breathing Issues: Compared to nonsmokers, smokers are more susceptible to respiratory infections such as pneumonia, the flu, and other illnesses.

  • Osteoporosis: Individuals have a higher risk of osteoporosis or weak bones if they smoke.

  • Disorders of the Eyes: Smoking raises the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can cause vision loss and blindness.

  • Diabetes: In addition to making it more difficult to manage diabetes once it has been diagnosed, smokers have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. Diabetes is a dangerous condition that can cause amputations, renal failure, nerve damage, blindness, and heart problems.

In addition, smoking increases the risk of erectile dysfunction in men and causes the skin to become dull and wrinkled, making muscles tire more quickly.

Why Is Quitting Smoking Essential in Old Age?

A smoker gets respiratory infections like flu and pneumonia (lung infection) faster than a non-smoker. Smoking increases the risk of cancer and stroke (brain damage due to reduced blood supply to the brain). It can cause damage to the heart and lungs. Osteoporosis or weak bones affects the elderly and reduces their mobility, which gets worsened by smoking. Smoking can increase the chances of cataracts (opacity of the eye’s lens), vision loss, and other eye damage. Smoking makes a person quickly tired and makes the skin unhealthy and wrinkled.

Immediately after quitting the habit, the person may experience many health benefits, like

  • Improved blood circulation.

  • Normalized blood pressure.

  • Decreased heart rate.

  • Easier breathing.

  • Immunity against cold, flu, sinus infections, and lung diseases.

Over time, the person starts feeling more energetic, and the benefits hit almost all the systems.

For example, quitting smoking lowers the risk of:

  • Heart attack (reduced blood supply to the heart).

  • Stroke (brain damage due to decreased blood supply to the brain).

  • Breathing problems like bronchitis (inflammation of the lining of airway passages) and emphysema (damage to the air sacs in the lungs).

  • Cancers of the mouth, lungs, and food pipe.

  • Osteoporosis (weak bones).

  • Hearing loss.

  • Vision damages.

  • Dementia (affecting thinking, social behavior, and memory).

  • Type 2 diabetes (increased blood sugar level).

What Is Second Hand Smoking?

Smokers' family members, friends, and even pets may experience major health issues as a result of secondhand smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. People who already have heart or lung conditions should be extremely cautious when it comes to secondhand smoke. Lung cancer and heart problems can be brought on by secondhand smoke in adults. It may raise a baby's chance of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is defined as an infant dying for no apparent reason before turning one year old. In addition, exposure to secondhand smoke increases a child's risk of developing severe asthma, ear infections, and lung issues.

How to Quit Smoking in Old Age?

Quitting smoking can only be done step by step:

  1. Getting Help:

  • With age, health conditions usually worsen, and the individual may be asked to quit smoking by a doctor. Help from the doctor and family members is essential, encouraging the individual even more to achieve the goal.

  1. Getting Prepared:

  • The most crucial step is doing appropriate pre-quitting planning. It has to be done sequentially and mindfully. Deciding and confirming the date of quitting is important. Quitting will be stressful. Therefore, setting the date one or two weeks later is essential, giving enough time for the mind and body to adapt to the decision. Spreading the word with family and friends helps to feel accountable for the action. It also helps in receiving more support throughout the quitting period.

  • Getting assistance from a counselor may help to achieve a strong mind. Discussing with ex-smokers and those who are trying to quit sincerely will also be beneficial to get prepared. Stocking up with mints and gums and gradually cutting down on smoking until the quit date should also be considered. Keeping a journal and noting down the places and times when smoking has been done will help track the frequency. The smoking journal will also help remind the individual about the process and the progress.

  1. Getting Into Action:

  • Medications like Bupropion and Varenicline and nicotine replacements like nicotine patches and drugs can help deal with withdrawal symptoms. Stress may increase the chances of smoking and can be controlled by relaxing exercises like meditation and yoga.

  • Being busy most of the time will keep the mind distracted from the thought of smoking. Chewing mint or gum can be considered to keep the mouth busy. Finally, throwing away all the cigarettes on the quit day is essential. Rewarding the self each week during the process will also encourage consistency.

  1. Managing the Cravings:

  • It is essential to throw away all the materials related to smoking, like lighters and ashtrays. Washing the articles of clothing and curtains and cleaning the surroundings help the environment stay smoke-free and reduce the emergence of thoughts related to smoking.

  • Cigarette cravings may frequently appear, but waiting about 10 to 15 minutes will help eliminate the feeling. Caffeine stays in the body longer after tobacco cessation, and cutting back on its consumption is necessary. Avoiding alcohol and staying away from places like bars should also be considered.

  1. Staying Motivated:

  • Self-motivation and willpower are vital. Thinking of oneself as a non-smoker and refusing the offered cigarettes will make the person stay on track.

  • Saving cigarette money in a jar, watching it increase, and using the money to reward oneself occasionally for quitting smoking will also improve the joy. Eating a low-fat and healthy diet and working out can make the mind and body strong and healthy.

What Are the Common Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms?

Cigarettes contain a chemical called nicotine, which triggers the release of chemicals that make the individual feel good. Over time, the brain demands nicotine to work well. When stopped, the brain gets irritable and starts showing withdrawal symptoms. As the body withdraws nicotine, many physical symptoms start showing up. It may start after one hour and come to a peak about the third day after quitting. Common symptoms are:

  • Anger and irritability.

  • Increased cigarette cravings.

  • Irritability and difficulty concentrating.

  • Nervousness and restlessness.

  • Headache.

  • Tremor (shivering).

  • Coughs.

  • Insomnia (hard to sleep).

  • Tiredness.

  • Constipation.

  • Decreased heart rate.

  • Depression.

Certain medications can reduce withdrawal symptoms.

  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy- Nicotine gum, patches, sprays, and lozenges can substitute nicotine. In nicotine replacement therapy, cigarettes will be replaced by nicotine substitutes. It releases steady and slow doses of nicotine without any harmful effects caused by smoking. This helps to break addiction and eases coping with the new routine.

  • Non-nicotine Medication- Medicines like Bupropion and Varenicline are non-nicotine medicines that can be used for a short period to relieve the symptoms.

The above medications can help one relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

What Is the Positive News Regarding the Smoke Quitting?

The good news is that even if the individual is 60, 70, or older when they stop smoking:

  • The blood pressure and heart rate return to more typical values.

  • One can taste and smell better as the nerve endings start to repair.

  • The circulatory system, heart, and lungs will start to perform better.

  • After quitting smoke, one will not be out of breath and coughing as much.

  • There will be a decrease in the risk of heart attack and stroke.

  • The individual will start to breathe better.

  • The risk of developing cancer will be decreased.

Considering all these health advantages, quitting smoking is a wise decision regardless of age.

Conclusion:

Most smokers require multiple tries before permanently quitting smoking. Quitting is hard. However, knowledge about the health benefits of quitting encourages the person to stop the habit. In addition, strong support from friends and family is also essential. Finally, staying self-motivated and enhancing willpower will keep the person on track.

Dr. Rajesh Gulati
Dr. Rajesh Gulati

Family Physician

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