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Cigarette Smoking in the Elderly

Cigarette Smoking in the ElderlyTobacco use, and in particular smoking, is associated with a range of negative health effects irrespective of the age of the user. Despite anti-smoking campaigns worldwide, many smokers are still ignorant or in denial about the health risks associated with cigarette smoking – not only to themselves but also their family members, pets and even co-workers. Cigarette smoking in the elderly is more likely to lead to a poor quality of life in the senior years, increases the chances of serious disease and decrease by one’s lifespan by about 10 years. The elderly have been found to be less likely to quit smoking but more successful when attempting to do so. Of greater interest, however, is the specific effects of smoking in terms of age-related changes in the body and diseases that are more common in the elderly and not always relevant to younger smokers.

Smoking and Brain Function in the Elderly

It is now known that cigarette smoking compromises cognitive functioning in the elderly, irrespective of senility or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive function or cognition refers to a whole array of mental processes including memory, attention span, problem solving, decision making, speaking and understanding speech. Although cigarette smoking has been shown to have a neuroprotective effect in certain diseases like Parkinson’s disease, the overall effects of smoking, however, are detrimental to mental health. Even in the absence of disease, the age-related changes in cognition can be further aggravated by cigarette smoking.

Smoking and Bone Health in the Elderly

Bone mineral density essentially determines the strength of the bones. There is a gradual decline with age, which may be more rapid and extensive in a person with osteoporosis. Weakening of the bones makes it prone to fractures even with minor falls and injuries and drastically impairs bone healing. It is known that cigarette smoking further contributes to this age-related decline in bone mineral density and worsens the effects of bone diseases like osteoporosis.

Smoking and Vision in the Elderly

The leading cause of vision impairment and reversible blindness in the elderly are cataracts. In this disease, the normally transparent lens of the eye becomes cloudy thereby blocking incoming light. Cigarette smoking is known to increase the incidence of cataract formation by as much as two to three times as that of non-smokers. Cataracts significantly impairs daily activities such as driving and reading and the costs of a lens replacement is often unaffordable to the elderly.

Smoking and Circulation in the Elderly

Cigarette smoking is a well known risk factor for the development of circulatory disorders. It narrows arteries throughout the body thereby increasing the risk of a heart attack or smoke. Although this effect is seen in smokers of all ages, it is greatly multiplied in the elderly. Apart from these serious diseases, circulatory disturbances in the form of peripheral vascular disease affects the legs of most seniors. It may lead to the development of unsightly veins in the legs, leg pain, darkening of the skin, formation of ulcers and blood clots in the leg that can dislodge and clog a more vital artery in the body thereby leading to sudden death.

Smoking and Lung Function in the Elderly

Age-related changes in lung function is not as pronounced in non-smokers. Smoking for long periods aggravates conditions like asthma and causes the development of emphysema and chronic bronchitis which are collectively known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These diseases are irreversible but smoking cessation can help improve the quality of life of COPD sufferers. It is in the senior years that COPD sufferers often experience the greatest hardship as a result of the compromised lung function, which also contribute to early death.


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