What to do about elderly father who has alzheimer's and smokes.

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 12, 2016
Amoore1981 asked...

My 73yr old father who smoked from the day he was 15 now had alzheimer's and still smokes but just recently in the last few days he's becoming more persistent about asking for his cigarettes. I quit buying cartons for him due to the fact he would smoke them all in about 4 days so now i roll them for him but as i mentioned he's asking more and more for a cigarette. He can smoke one and then not even in 5 minutes he asks me again for one. What can i do. I tried the fake cigarettes but he won't have anything to do with them and also tried the nicotine patches and of course had the same results. Any suggestions please?

Expert Answers

Brenda Avadian, brings knowledge, hope, and joy to family caregivers for loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia. She cared for her father with Alzheimer's and helps families one-on-one and in groups. She is the author of eight books, including the pioneering memoir "Where's my shoes?" My Father's Walk through Alzheimer's and the Finding the JOY in Alzheimer's series. She presents vivid, compelling, and funny keynotes to both professional and family caregiving audiences.

Smoking and Alzheimer's don't mix; however, a habit is hard to break, especially if your father's been smoking for 58 years.

First, there's the SAFETY issue.

Depending on how far along Alzheimer's is what if he falls asleep with a lit cigarette?

Or what if he doesn't snuff it out completely?

Is someone able to be with him each time he has a smoke?

Second, there's the hard-to-break-long-term-habit issue.

We nonsmokers can easily give you solutions, but the reality is if his mind is diminished due to dementia, he's comforted by a routine. Your father's routine may be to have a cigarette while performing certain activities during the day. Take his cigarettes away from him and you'll have one grouchy father.

I suggest when he asks for a cigarette, have two handy. Either you or someone sit with your father while he enjoys the cigarette then if he asks for another, you'll have one handy.

If he asks for a third, next time around, you'll tell him the second cigarette is the last one you have; so, he'd better enjoy it.

The electronic cigarettes don't work for everyone. And given your father's Alzheimer's, this may not be so much about nicotine addiction as it is a habit and his familiarity with the feel of a cigarette and the smell of the smoke.

Let us know how this works.

Eventually, as you limit his smoking and as the disease progresses, he'll forget. Until then, may patience be your constant companion.

Community Answers

Jmacaf answered...

Understanding that this completely depends on his cognitive level, you could try making a chart, spacing his "allowed" number of cigarettes out through the day, assigning each one to a time. This way he could check the chart & the time on his own & know when he could have another. I would have him sign off, initial, or put a sticker next to each one when he's had it. Good luck!!

Amoore1981 answered...

Well other than forgetting a few people and other things from time to time to me i think he's not that bad and yes i always make sure i am with him when he is smoking because in fact in the beginning when he first came home to live with me he dropped an ash on the carpet so i'm always with him and i try to limit his smoking times but he's just so grouchy when he's not had one and sometimes to get him to get a shower i have to bribe him with one just to get in there. I just don't for see him ever quitting but i do try to limit his intake.

Plm231 answered...

I'm 70, and unfortunately have smoked since I was 18. I have tried to quit, but I can't stop. I have found that if I don't allow myself to smoke in the house, or the car, the inconvenience of going outside in all kinds of weather limits my smoking. I've put small coffee cans outside filled about 1/2 with water to put the butts in after I've smoked. This additional activity may jog your fathers memory just by making it more difficult to smoke.