Never too late

Good news for older smokers:

“If you’re open to quitting, regardless of how old you are, it’s one of the best things you can do for your health,” she said.

Conversely, though all of us are prone to binary thinking about old age — we’re fine or we’re outta here, as if we have on-off switches — continuing to smoke can make seniors’ final years much worse, exacerbating a long list of chronic diseases. Smokers who enter hospitals will endure withdrawal along with other unpleasantness, and nicotine patches aren’t necessarily comfortable substitutes. Smokers have higher rates of hospital delirium, Dr. Kleykamp pointed out, and they heal more slowly after surgery.

As for smoking’s effect on the aging brain, still a topic of debate, an Australian study (a small one, it should be said) published this spring used standard cognitive tests and brain scans to detect differences among three groups: older adults who’d never smoked, those who’d enrolled in stop-smoking programs and successfully quit, and those who tried to quit but didn’t succeed. After two years, the quitters showed cognitive decline similar that of those who’d never smoked; the ongoing smokers showed greater decline than either. So the damage apparently wasn’t all done — it continued.

The good news for older smokers is that under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare now covers smoking-cessation counseling for any beneficiary who wants to stop.