Smoking among elderly

Smoke cessation starts showing benefits within five years

Old men smoking

Does smoking affect the elderly? And is smoking cessation helpful even at an advanced age? Professor Hermann Brenner and colleagues studied over 8,807 elderly individuals aged between 50 and 74 years living in the Saarland state of Germany. "We were able to show that the risk of smokers for cardiovascular diseases is more than twice that of non-smokers. However, former smokers are affected at almost the same low rate as people of the same age who never smoked," points out Brenner. "Moreover, smokers are affected at a significantly younger age than individuals who have never smoked or have stopped smoking." On an average, a 60-year-old smoker has the same risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack] as a 79-year-old non-smoker and the same risk of stroke as a 69-year-old non-smoker. The number of cigarettes the person used to smoke and the number of years of his/her life the person has been smoking also influence the probability of getting a heart attack or a stroke. Obviously the more cigarettes a smoker consumes per day over a prolonged period of time, the risk goes up.

"Compared to individuals who continue smoking, the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke is reduced by more than 40 per cent within the first five years after the last cigarette," says Carolin Gellert, first author of the study. The results indicate that smoking cessation efforts that have up until now focussed on youngsters should extend to elderly people too.

In this study, the research team evaluated data from the ESTHER Study whose participants are from Saarland. These participants had not suffered a heart attack or stroke prior to study and their health status had been surveyed for almost ten years afterwards. The researchers also accounted for the effects of other factors such as age, gender, alcohol consumption, education and physical exercise as well as blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels, body height and weight. In sum, this study only adds evidence to the previous studies that suggest the detrimental effects of smoking.

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