9 Strategies to Quit Smoking in Your Senior Years
At this point, you’ve been hearing it for years. You know all about the health risks that come with smoking, like:
- Breathing disorders like asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Kidney disease
- Lung cancer
- Macular degeneration
But if you’re a senior that smokes, none of this is probably news to you. If you’ve been smoking for decades, what difference will quitting really make?
A lot, as it happens. Research confirms that while you won’t see improvements as quickly as you would have if you’d quit at 30, you will still see health improvements if you quit in your senior years.
Studies also show that seniors are actually more likely to be successful if they commit to quitting than younger smokers.
Here are a few strategies you can make use of, to help you succeed this time:
1. Define your reasons why.
One of the best places to start the process of quitting is to really decide why this choice matters to you. It doesn’t have to be anything on the list above. Think about what quitting means for you personally. Maybe you’re ready to quit because you want to be around long enough to see your grandson graduate from high school. Or maybe you’re tired of seeing loved ones cringe at the smell when they go to hug you.
Think through how quitting would make your life better and write your reasons down. This will both help you clarify that you do really want to quit and give you something to go back to anytime your resolve starts wavering.
2. Identify your triggers.
Part of smoking addiction is physical, but some of it is more habitual. You get used to having a cigarette with every cup of coffee or heading outside for one each day after lunch. Pinpoint the activities or times of day you associate most with smoking – these are the moments you’ll be most tempted and should try to prepare for.
If you know those five minutes after lunch will be particularly hard, you can be prepared with an alternate activity to fill the gap – maybe brushing your teeth right after lunch or taking a walk around the block – anything that will take your mind off the desire to smoke.
How many times have you decided in the moment you’re ready to quit, but then the next day you experience something stressful and figure maybe it’s not the right time after all? Your momentary decision should come coupled with an ongoing plan if you’re going to stick to it.
Figure out the timeline you want to quit on – are you going cold turkey today, or starting by cutting down little by little? Think about tools you can try to stick with your resolve to quit (some handy ones are included later in our list). If you’re a smartphone user, there’s an app that can help. If you’re more old fashioned in your planning, make use of your calendar to turn your larger goal into specific steps you can consistently follow.
4. Try smoking cessation counseling.
A lot of people find it easier to quit if they work with someone who helps. Medicare covers smoking cessation counseling, so you probably have free access to in-person help you didn’t know about yet. You can also try the smoking cessation Quitline at 800-QUIT-NOW.
Having someone talk you through your options and provide actionable tips to help you quit could be the thing you need to actually pull it off this time.
5. Use over-the-counter medications
There are several OTC meds that will replace the nicotine you miss from cigarettes to help you reduce the cravings over time. If you haven’t yet, try out:
- Nicotine gum
- Nicotine lozenges
- Nicotine patches
Studies have shown nicotine replacement options improve the chances of quitting by 50-70%. Not bad. They’re definitely worth a try.
6. Use prescription medications.
If over-the-counter options don’t work for you, talk to your doctor. They can consider if any of the prescription medications for quitting are a good fit for your situation. These include nicotine inhalers and nasal sprays, and in some cases certain antidepressants.
Depending on the prescription plan you have with Medicaid, some of these options may be fully covered for you. It’s worth checking to see if you can get them for free or cheap.
7. Use support groups.
Quitting anything addictive is hard and many people have found the process gets easier when you can talk to others dealing with the same thing. Across the United States, there are Nicotine Anonymous support groups set up just for that purpose. See what’s near you and give it a try. You can learn from what’s worked for other quitters and talk about your struggles with other people who get it.
8. Quit the Habit.
As previously mentioned, so much of the draw of smoking is related to the habitual nature of it. Try to find something to replace that. It could be chewing gum, brushing your teeth, going for walks, or making hot tea each time you get a craving. Having something else to do with your hands and mind when the craving hits will help you re-train your brain toward a healthier habit.
9. Use your friends and family to help.
A counselor and support group can be crucial support during this time, but your chances of success will be much higher if the people around you are also committed to supporting you along the way. Ask them to encourage you as you go and hold you accountable if they see you slipping.
Hearing the people you love tell you how proud of you they are and celebrating each new milestone with you can go a long way to incentivizing you to stick with it. Chances are, the people who love you will be eager to help.
You know it’s bad for you and you know your life will be better once you quit. Take the steps now to make it happen. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean the effort won’t be worth it; if anything, it’s more meaningful to take that step now to improve the years you have left.