Did stopping smoking cause my Alzheimer's mom to also stop speaking?

2 answers | Last updated: Oct 19, 2016
Jinmi asked...

My mom has moderate Alzheimer's and will be moving to assisted living in a month. Since there is no smoking allowed, we have weaned her off cigarettes in the last month. Since we started that, she has rapidly lost her ability to speak clearly. Her doctor says it's just part of the disease, but it seems too much of a coincidence that this has happened so quickly and at the same time as her withdrawal from nicotine. She smoked for over 60 years. We believe that the nicotine gave her an extra boost that kept her able to talk. Is there anything we can give her to replace that? Such a shame that she won't be able to communicate and make friends in assisted living now. We're having second thoughts about making her quit smoking. She's 81. We've thought of the patch or gum, but Dr. said not to use them to help her quit, as side effects would be harmful. Is there anything that can get her that extra zip and is not harmful?

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

If stopping smoking makes Alzheimer's (AD) worse then I do believe there would be many more scenarios such as the one you report. Unfortunately, it is at best difficult, if not impossible, to predict when certain manifestations of AD will occur in individual people. Losing the ability to use words and appropriate sentence structure are always lost in AD and in some of the other dementing illnesses. It is far more likely that the change in mom's communication skills and ceasing smoking is just a coincidence. Chances are it would have happened at this point in the process whether or not she had stopped smoking. Rest assured it is much better that she no longer smokes. Hazzardous situations for AD folk who continue to smoke are countless and frightening from frequent skin burns to lighting objects on fire or burning down one's room or home. All are reported by the caregivers of AD smokers time and time again. Rejoice in the fact that she no longer smokes. She is safe from the horror of painfully harming herself or burning someone or something else.

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Community Answers

Geraldt answered...

Twelve years ago, before the demonization of all things relating to tobacco and nicotine reached the current fever pitch, my wife was rapidly losing the ability to communicate due to a series of strokes. While she was still able to function well enough to attend adult day care I discovered that a moderate strength nicotine patch applied each morning improved her mood and functioning through most of the day. On those occasions when I forgot the patch the staff quite often remarked at how subdued and/or more confused she had been that day. Nicotine update by the brain (neuronal nicotinic receptors (NNRs))is also the foundation of various psycho-therapeutic drugs under development by companies such as Targacept.