You're never too old to quit smoking. That's the message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the CDC, smokers die an average of 10 years earlier than nonsmokers, and smoking is responsible for about 1 in 5 U.S. deaths annually. Many seniors want to quit smoking: Forty-seven percent of smokers who are 65 years or older stopped smoking for more than one day in 2015 because they were trying to quit. Breaking cigarette addiction can be an arduous endeavor, especially for longtime smokers, but the benefits are well worth it.
Though some might think that after decades of smoking, the damage is already done, health professionals and government organizations say otherwise. "Even for someone of an older age, it is always worth quitting as the positive benefits start to occur minutes after smoking exposure," says Richard Bryce, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at the Community Health and Social Services Center, a nonprofit health center in Detroit. The CDC reports that short-term results can be seen: Just 12 hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood goes back to normal; two weeks to three months after quitting, your risk of heart attack begins to drop; and one year after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker.
There are chemical and psychological components to cigarette addiction. Once smokers toss their filter-tipped friends, they must manage symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and grapple with other side effects like increased hunger, anxiety, irritability and mental fogginess. Though no solution will work for everyone, try these steps and practices to see what works for you.
--Consult your doctor. "As an osteopathic physician, I partner with my patients to identify the mental, emotional and physical challenges a patient faces, so that we can address them together," says Bryce. Work with your doctor to develop a plan that is realistic and works for your mental and physical health.
--Nicotine replacement products. Many people use these to help reduce withdrawal feelings and cravings. Options include over-the-counter nicotine gum, lozenges and patches, as well as prescription nasal sprays and inhalers. Additionally, the Food & Drug Administration has approved two non-nicotine medications, Zyban and Chantix.
--Behavioral therapy. Seek counseling from a doctor or in a group setting. Nicotine Anonymous, a nonprofit 12-step program for men and women, offers both group meetings and phone meetings.
--Find a new buzz. Substitute the satisfaction cigarettes bring with a healthier alternative, such as exercise or coffee. Many smokers simply miss the sensation of holding a cigarette in their hands or between their teeth. Reach for a different comfort to get past the urges, such as sugarless gum, flavored toothpicks or sunflower seeds. Whatever you choose, stash it everywhere -- in your purse, car, house, desk -- so it's always available.
--Start a new positive routine. Take up a new hobby. Check something off your bucket list. Finish those tasks you started long ago and never got around to finishing.
--Community support. A Harris Poll survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults conducted for the American Osteopathic Association revealed that 23 percent of Americans believe collaborating with friends or family members is the most effective aid for a tobacco user who is trying to quit. Notify your loved ones of your goal, and reach out to them for support.
--Smoke-free apps. Technologically attuned seniors can explore apps like QuitGuide and quitSTART for daily support. QuitGuide helps you understand your smoking patterns and build skills to become and remain smoke-free.
--Celebrate victories, large and small. On average, it takes smokers seven attempts to quit before they beat their addiction. "Every quit counts," says Bryce. Develop a reward system for meeting quitting milestones, such as a trip to the movies, a weekend getaway or a new gym membership.
Aging is no reason to give up on your health. In fact, quitting smoking at old age is the perfect time to take control, take action and finally kick the habit that's been ailing you for years.