Tobacco use & Elderly Care: Maintaining a Healthy Atmosphere

Smoking exposes the elderly, who depend on their caretakers, to numerous dangerous chemicals. These chemicals are found in second and third-hand smoke, and are just as dangerous as smoking directly.

elderly women with caretaker

Caring for the elderly is a selfless job. Many elderly individuals have chronic health conditions which require round the clock monitoring, and their health is generally more fragile than in younger people. This makes them especially vulnerable to tobacco smoke. Elderly people are urged to quit smoking in order to reduce the risk of chronic health conditions. Those who have smoked for years already may have health problems related to tobacco use, and preventing exposure to tobacco smoke is even more important for these people.

These reasons are why healthcare workers who interact with and care for the elderly should also avoid tobacco use. Aside from the health implications for the smoker, tobacco use may also put patients in elderly care facilities in danger of increased health problems.

Second-Hand Smoke

Most elderly care centers do not allow smoking indoors. This helps to reduce the exposure patients or residents have to second-hand smoke. In some facilities, residents may be allowed to smoke in designated areas. This may be separate from, or combined with, staff smoking areas. Outdoor smoking facilities should be kept separate from other outdoor areas where residents and staff may congregate in order to reduce the non-smoker’s exposure to secondhand smoke.

Third-Hand Smoke

Smoking outdoors does not fully protect patients or residents from tobacco exposure. Studies have been conducted, and third-hand smoke is proving to be more harmful than researchers originally thought. Third-hand smoke refers to the nicotine, tar, or smoke residue which clings to curtains, hair, clothing, and other soft, porous surfaces. According to the Surgeon General, there is no safe level of tobacco smoke exposure.

In healthcare facilities for the elderly, third-hand smoke is the primary problem pertaining to indoor areas. When workers or residents smoke outdoors, they reduce the risk of second-hand smoke exposure, but they do not reduce the risk of exposing others to third-hand smoke. Residue may still cling to clothing and hair and be carried indoors when people reenter from their smoke breaks.

Just like second-hand smoke, third-hand smoke contains up to 7,000 chemicals and other substances. Many of these have been shown to cause cancer and other health problems. According to ACS, it has also been shown that third-hand smoke can interact with indoor air to create even more hazardous air conditions.

While third-hand smoke may enter an indoor area carried on the clothing or hair of the smoker, it doesn’t stay on those surfaces. Each time the person moves, smoke residue can reenter the air. That means residents in elderly facilities may be exposed to the same smoke residue over and over again. This effect is compounding every time someone goes outdoors for a smoke break and then reenters the building.

Third-hand smoke has been shown to increase the risk for the same health conditions as smoking. Heart disease, lung cancer, COPD, and stroke are all more common in those exposed to third-hand smoke. For elderly patients who are already most susceptible to these conditions, or who may already have some of these conditions, the effects of smoke residue may be compounded.

Reducing the Risk of Exposure

The only way for a smoker to remove third-hand smoke from his or her body would be to shower thoroughly and change into clean clothes. Since this is impractical for many reasons, some facilities have banned smoke breaks.

The best way to prevent exposure, however, is to stop smoking altogether, since smokers could still bring some small amounts of residue after smoking at home or on the way to work. Stop smoking aids are available for those who need help quitting. Nicotine replacement products, prescription medications, and e-cigarettes are available and easily acquired.

For more motivation to quit smoking once and for all, visit The Real Cost of Smoking.

Read more about the effects cigarette smoke has on the human body at The Effects of Smoking.

There are many ways to immediately reduce the harm of cigarette smoke. Read more about smoking cessation methods here and here.

Learn more about smoking:

Nicotine Dependence and Freedom

• How to Inspire a Smoker to Quit

• Secondhand Smoke: Think Twice

Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey