Qualitative Message Development to Motivate Quitting Smoking in Older Adults: Dementia May Motivate Quitting

Adrienne L. Johnson, Sara Doyle, Carey E. Gleason, Jessica Cook, Jane Mahoney, Megan E. Piper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Compared to younger adults, older adults who smoke cigarettes are half as likely to make a quit attempt, but more likely to maintain abstinence using evidence-based smoking treatments (EBSTs), illustrating the need for motivational messages to promote cessation through EBSTs. It is unclear whether messaging regarding the association between smoking and dementia might motivate older adults to quit. We conducted 90-min semi-structured qualitative interviews and surveys via telephone with 24 U.S. older adults who smoke (ages 50-75) with no cognitive impairment history. Rapid content analysis revealed the most reported health-related concern of aging was dementia/cognitive loss/loss of functioning. However, most participants were unaware of the association between cognitive decline and smoking. Participants had seen previous smoking cessation advertisements, but most did not feel motivated to quit by them. The majority found a message about smoking raising dementia risk and quitting decreasing that risk to be motivational for cessation. Exact message content preference varied, but 2 broad categories arose: hope- and fear-based messages. Most participants stated willingness to use some cessation pharmacotherapy and half were willing to use cessation counseling. Participants preferred messages to come from older adults who were successful quitters. To our knowledge, this was the first study to explore potential motivational messages targeting older adult smokers, including the potential acceptability of a dementia-related message in this context. This work supports patient desire for targeted motivational messages for older adult smokers. Messages highlighting the link between smoking and dementia are perceived to be motivational for this group; future work should compare a hope- to fear-based messages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInquiry (United States)
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • cigarettes
  • messaging
  • motivation
  • older adults
  • quitting
  • smoking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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