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Older Adults and Smoking

About 1 in 10 adults over the age of 65 smoke tobacco. Smoking tobacco is a major cause of death and many health problems. Smoking can also make certain health problems worse in older adults, including:

  • diabetes, osteoporosis, and lung problems
  • mental health problems, such as depression and the loss of memory and concentration skills
  • blindness

Older adults who smoke also have a higher risk of:

  • their medicines not working the way they should (smoking can interfere with the effect of medicines on the body that older adults commonly take)
  • not being able to do their daily activities
  • having poorer relationships with family members (compared to former smokers and never smokers)

Benefits of quitting

If you’re an older adult who smokes, you may wonder “Why should I quit now?”. The good news is that it’s never too late to quit smoking. Even if you’re over the age of 60 and have been smoking for many years, there are many benefits to quit smoking.

These benefits include:

  • slowing the worsening of long-term health problems and making them easier to manage or treat, such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • slowing down the loss of memory and concentration skills (that happen as we age)
  • slowing the effects of dementia
  • helping your medicines work better
  • making it easier for you to do daily activities
  • having better relationships with family members
  • a better sense of taste and smell
  • a better quality and length of life
  • being proud to be a positive role model for your family and grandchildren
  • having more money
  • a lower risk of fire-related deaths

Where to start

If you’re an older adult who smokes, you may be very addicted to nicotine and find it hard to quit smoking. You may find it helpful to talk to your healthcare provider about prescription and over-the-counter medicines (like nicotine replacement therapy) to help you quit. Healthcare providers can also give you information about counseling and other types of support.

For example, you may find it helpful to get support from others, such as a support group, to motivate you to quit.

Talking to your healthcare provider about your wishes to stop smoking is a great first step. It’s also been shown to improve your chances of actually quitting.

Dementia and smoking

Research shows that smoking is linked to a higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (the most common cause of dementia). Quitting smoking may help prevent these conditions. And if you or your family member or loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, quitting smoking may slow the worsening of these conditions.

Having the right plan and supports in place is especially important when someone with dementia is trying to quit. People living with dementia may still ask to smoke, even if they’re not having a craving for nicotine. This is often related more to the habit of smoking and their long-term memory, rather than an actual craving or having withdrawal. For example, you may notice they ask to smoke even if they just had a cigarette.

If you or your family member or loved one has dementia, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider about medicines and other ways to quit smoking.

More information

Find out more about quitting smoking and medicines to quit smoking.

Albertans can also call the toll-free AlbertaQuits Helpline at 1-866-710-QUIT (7848) for counselling, support, and information on quitting smoking.

Current as of: March 9, 2020

Author: Tobacco Reduction, Alberta Health Services