Quitting Smoking for Older Adults

May 12, 2016

Quitting Smoking for Older Adults

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Giving up smoking can be tough for anyone at any age, and especially for seniors that have been smoking for decades. However, no matter how old you are, it is never too late to quit smoking. Even for those people that tried to quit before, you can still be successful. Quitting smoking as a senior has near immediate benefits to your health.

Health risks of smoking

There are many health risks related to long-term smoking. As you get older your body doesn’t quite bounce back from injury or sickness the way you used to. The health risks associated with smoking can be even more serious for seniors. Some of these health problems include:

Better late than never

Most smokers over the age of 50 have tried to quit before. And even older adults that have never tried to quit know that smoking is not good for them. Many of us have heard of the many benefits quitting smoking provides such as:

  • Lowered risk of cancer, cardiac conditions, respiratory infections, and other diseases
  • Less coughing
  • More money in your pocket
  • Fewer wrinkles
  • More energy
  • Better sense of taste and smell
  • Not smelling of smoke
  • Living longer

Older adults may think that they would need to quit smoking for a long time to gain any benefits. And though it may take some time for some of the benefits, there are others that happen to start just 20 minutes from when you smoke your last cigarette:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: Heart rate drops
  • 12 hours after quitting: Carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop to normal
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Heart attack risk begins to drop and lung function begins to improve

For more benefits from 20 minutes to 15 years, visit the CDC’s website.

Kicking the habit

There are many reasons why older smokers quit besides the health benefits. They may quit to regain control of their lives and be free from cigarettes, or they may quit to please a loved one. Whatever the reason, they are all good reasons to quit smoking.

It can be extremely hard for older adults to quit that have been smoking for so long they may not even remember a time in their life when they didn’t smoke. But older people can also find success in quitting because throughout their lives they have probably faced many challenges that they have had to overcome. Knowing this helps them be more prepared for the challenge of quitting smoking.


There are many different kinds of medications that can help you kick your nicotine addiction. While these have been found to help people quit, they are to be used with a broader quit plan. Some medications will require a prescription, while others, you can get over-the-counter.

These medications work by slowly releasing nicotine into your body. They help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. By releasing nicotine at a slow rate into the body over a few hours, it is less addictive and easier to stop using than cigarettes. Medications that require a prescription are usually reserved for heavily addicted smokers and some will block the effects of nicotine if you start smoking again.

Over-the-counter medications include:

  • Patch
  • Gum
  • Lozenge

Medications that require a prescription include:

  • Nasal spray
  • Inhaler
  • Bupropion (generic drug name)
  • Varenicline (generic drug name)


Aids alone may not be enough to get rid of your smoking habit. There are other things that you can do to support yourself while you are trying to stop smoking once and for all.

  • Seek support from friends, family members, support groups, or even a counselor. If one of your friends or family members is also a smoker, ask them to quit with you.
  • Instead of having that cigarette after a meal, or when you would usually smoke, replace it with something else like a cup of coffee, a small piece of candy, or a healthy snack.
  • Don’t hang around other smokers. If you have friends that are still smokers, ask them not to smoke around you and not to offer you cigarettes, even if they are joking.
  • While trying to quit, eliminate any drinking to reduce nicotine cravings and to lower the chance that you might slip up.
  • Keep your hand and your body busy. When you stop smoking, you’ll find that it is easier to breathe when exercising so staying active is important, and good for your overall health. To keep your hands busy, consider playing cards with friends, or learning a new activity like knitting or painting.


There are other resources that can help you quit along with providing materials that will be beneficial to your journey to quitting smoking.

  • National Cancer Institute (NCI) Smoking Quitline: You can call them at 1-877-44U-QUIT for personal counseling and printed materials.
  • Smokefree.gov: This site was created by the NCI and has a step-by-step guide to help you quit as well as medication guides and links to local resources in your area.
  • American Cancer Society: The ACS offers free materials to help you quit smoking and prevent cancer.

No matter what age you are, you are never too old to quit and reap the benefits of leading a smoke-free lifestyle.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How prevalent is addiction in the elderly community?

Findings from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism show that 20-30 percent of people ages 75 to 85 have experienced drinking problems and, according to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, 3.6 percent of adults aged 60 to 64 report using an illicit drug.

If you are concerned that your loved one has an addiction problem consider these drug treatment programs for seniors.

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How prevalent is medication abuse in the senior 65+ community?

Persons aged 65 years and older comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet account for more than one-third of total outpatient spending on prescription medications in the United States. Older patients are more likely to be prescribed long-term and multiple prescriptions, and some experience cognitive decline, which could lead to improper use of medications. Alternatively, those on a fixed income may abuse another person's remaining medication to save money. 

Prescription drug abuse in the elderly is more common than you think. If you believe your loved one is addicted to prescription drugs seek help immediately.

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