The harm of tobacco use and the benefits of quitting smoking

Can quitting smoking after age 60 actually offer health benefits?

As providers, we hear far too often “I have been smoking for 40 years. Quitting now won’t do me any good.”  This is, in fact, false. Quitting tobacco at ANY age, is linked to many health benefits. Currently, tobacco use is a worldwide epidemic and continues to be the leading global cause of preventable death. It kills nearly 6 million people a year. This statistic remains true for older adults yet, 40 million Americans still use tobacco products. Unfortunately, older adults who use tobacco have double the mortality rate compared to older adults who do not.

The health risk for smoking is extremely significant. Smoking is linked to a higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults and has also been connected with increased risk of macular degeneration, cataracts, hearing changes, and decreased abilities in smell and taste. We know that smoking is linked to loss of functioning, mobility and independence in older adults. The risk for cardiovascular disease is greater in this age bracket. For older woman, smoking is associated with age‐related diseases such as osteoporosis and breast cancer.

The good news is that quitting tobacco delivers almost immediate health benefits. Twenty minutes after quitting, your heart rate drops to a normal level and after 12 hours, carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. In as little as two days after quitting, you may notice a heightened sense of smell and more vivid tastes as these nerves heal. Your risk of having a heart attack begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve within 2-3 weeks. You may notice that coughing and shortness of breath decrease in as little as one month of quitting.

The longer a person avoids any tobacco product, the healthier a person will get. Improved health and decreased mortality occurs when people quit smoking even after age 60. Benefits of smoking cessation in older adults include reduced progression of respiratory disease and improvement in lung function. Older adults will see decreased cognitive impairment and prevention of dementia. Actually, there is a reduced risk of all major causes of death once you quit! An obvious benefit and one of the most important is improved safety, quality and length of life.

Element Care strives to help educate our participants around the harm of tobacco use and the benefits of quitting. We want our participants to enjoy time with their grandchildren, be able to go for walks with their spouses or play cards with their friends for years to come. This is why we have created a company wide smoking cessation program that involves every member of our Interdisciplinary Team.

To be honest, quitting isn’t always an easy thing to do especially after years of smoking. Cigarettes become your stress reliever, your pick me up on a bad day, a reward to yourself for an accomplishment or a friend to turn to. But know it can be successfully done and the benefits will outweigh any of the struggles you had to get there. The reason why people quit can be very different, but identifying your personal reason to quit is the first powerful step.

Here are a few more tips and tools to support your smoke free journey:

  • Commit to quit, Make a list of reasons why you would like to quit.
  • Pick a quit date. I plan to quit on (month/day/year): _______________________.
  • Identify the people in your life who can help support you.
  • Identify your triggers that may cause you to want to smoke. These can be people, places, events or situations.
  • Speak with your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy such as the nicotine patch, gum or lozenges.
  • Throw away all of your tobacco products, ashtrays and lighters.
  • Attend Element Care’s support group, Fresh Start.
  • Consider meeting with a counselor to work on smoking cessation and relapse prevention.
  • Reward yourself after reaching important milestones in your tobacco free life.
  • Learn how to manage your urges by utilizing coping skills. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Practice breathing techniques
  • Go for a walk
  • Read a book
  • Call a friend
  • Pray
  • Play a game with your grandchildren
  • Drink 6–8 glasses of water every day. It’s a surprisingly good craving-buster
  • Garden
  • Do a crossword puzzle
  • Suck on a breath mint. Mints relieve cravings for the taste of cigarettes
  • Drink some decaf stress relief herbal tea. This helps aide in stress reduction, caused from nicotine withdrawal.

And finally, try, try and try again! People may experience relapses. Maybe more than 10. Don’t get discouraged and don’t give up. Remember, you deserve this!

Katelin Hartigan
Psychotherapist at Element Care