Helping Seniors Stop Smoking
Advice for families and caregivers
Smoking will aggravate just about any condition a senior has. Most patients have been told by their doctor to stop smoking, but may need more support than that in order to stop.
Since smoking is addictive, encourage your parent to get help for both the psychological and physiological dependence. For most people, the best way to quit will be some combination of medication, a strategy to change personal habits, and emotional support. Here are some specifics:
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) runs a QuitLine, where trained counselors offer phone counseling and find out the specific characteristics of each person's smoking habit and then give individualized advice on how best to quit. Call the ACS at 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345) for a QuitLine counselor.
- For those who would prefer in-person support groups, try your parent's local hospital, health insurance company, employer, or call 1-800-ACS-2345 for your parent's local branch of the American Cancer Society.
- Another option, Nicotine Anonymous groups, which follow the guidelines of Alcoholics Anonymous, can be found in many areas. Some programs are more successful than others, so ask for references to be sure the one you are considering is successful. More intense programs, with more hours over a longer period of time and/or more personal counseling, tend to be more successful. Often, programs will combine counseling with some sort of nicotine replacement therapy to gradually wean a person off of the nicotine addiction while dealing with the psychological craving. Various substances may be used -- such as lozenges, sprays, gum, or patches -- to provide safer forms of nicotine while weaning a senior off of it.
- One more option is the American Lung Association website, which offers information on how to stop smoking.
Q: My parent who has kidney disease was told to stop smoking. Is that really important?
A: The two most common causes of kidney disease are high blood pressure and diabetes, and smoking contributes to both of them. It greatly increases both the chance of getting kidney disease and then the death rate from strokes and heart attacks of those who have it.
Q: My parent with pneumonia is having a hard time stopping smoking. How can I help?
A: Anyone who has pneumonia would be told to stop smoking as it might aggravate their condition and interfere with their treatment. In addition, smoking can weaken their lungs and make them more prone to getting infections in general and a recurrence of the pneumonia in particular. Encourage your parent to try one of the stop-smoking programs mentioned above.
Q: My parent has severe breathing problems, but still smokes. What can I do?
A: If your parent is still smoking, continue to encourage him or her to stop. Let your parent know how important he or she is to you and your family, and that you want him or her to stay alive and participate in your family's life.
Q: My parent who has vision problems is having a hard time stopping smoking. How can I help?
A: Most people with vision loss are told to stop smoking, as smoking can double their chance of developing macular degeneration, one of the major causes of vision loss in seniors. Encourage your parent to try one of the stop-smoking programs mentioned above.
Q: My parent who has heart disease is having a hard time stopping smoking. How can I help?
A: Tell your parent that stopping smoking will reduce his or her chance of a repeat heart attack and death from heart disease by 50 percent. The nicotine in cigarettes causes less oxygen to go to the heart, increases blood pressure and heart rate, as well as blood clotting, and damages cells that line the arteries and other blood vessels. Then encourage your parent to try one of the stop-smoking programs mentioned above.
Q: Since my parent already has diabetes, does he need to stop smoking?
A: Unfortunately, in addition to increasing the risk of getting diabetes, smoking also increases a person's chance of developing complications from diabetes, such as retinopathy, heart disease, stroke, vascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, problems with feet, and more. Therefore, it is very important for your parent to stop smoking.
Q: Since my parent already had a stroke, does he need to stop smoking?
A: Yes, because smoking increases the risk not only of having a first stroke, but also of having another one. Plus smoking increases the risk of having a heart attack, as well as of developing many other health problems.
Q: Must my parent stop smoking if she already has Alzheimer's disease?A: In some studies, smoking has been found to greatly accelerate the rate of mental decline in Alzheimer's patients. Therefore, it would benefit your parent to give up smoking as soon as possible.
Q: Now that my parent already has cancer, does it really matter if he smokes while undergoing chemotherapy?A: Since your parent is undergoing chemotherapy for his cancer, he or she should be aware that smoking can inhibit the effectiveness of some chemotherapies, and can also increase the number of side effects from the treatment. All in all, stopping smoking will improve the effectiveness of the treatment and of your parent's sense of well-being, and will also eliminate a possible cause of further cancers.
Q: My parent, who is undergoing radiation therapy, doesn't want to give up smoking. Must he?
A: Smoking has been shown to inhibit the effectiveness of radiation treatment, to increase the mortality rate of the cancer itself, and to increase the rate of getting other cancers in addition to the one for which he or she is receiving radiation. So try to get him or her to stop.
Q: My parent who has a broken hip was told to stop smoking. Is that really necessary?A: Yes, because smoking inhibits the ability of bones to heal. As a result, your parent will take much longer to heal than would have been the case.