Leonard Cohen smoking again at 80 a trade-off, says Dr. Raj Bhardwaj

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj spoke on the Calgary Eyeopener today about Leonard Cohen's decision to take up smoking at age 80 and whether he thinks it's a good idea.

Calgary Eyeopener medical contributor says indulging in bad habits is a matter of balance

Leonard Cohen recently celebrated his 80th birthday with a cigarette. (CBC)

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen announced that when he turned 80 this fall he planned to once again take up smoking.

“It’s the right age to recommence,” Cohen explained to Jason Karkawish of the New York Times.

Karkawish wrote Cohen’s plan presents a provocative question: When should we set aside a life lived for the future and, instead, embrace the pleasures of the present?

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj says there are a number of factors to consider when taking up a bad habit later in life, and it's not always medical. (CBC)

"Today, 3.6 per cent of the population is over 80, and life is heavily prescribed not only with the behaviours we should avoid, but the medications we ought to take," stated the op-ed piece.

Calgary Eyeopener medical contributor Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, an urgent care doctor and family physician, spoke about when indulging in bad habits is a good idea this morning. He says it's about balance.

"If you live really long but your last days are miserable ... that's not awesome right? So we want to do some things that make us happy and some things that make us healthy," said Bhardwaj, adding everything is a trade-off.

Need for long-term medications

"If smoking makes him so happy and he's only going to smoke a cigarette a week — or, you know, a couple cigarettes a week — then sure, that might be a good decision for him."

"If he decides that, 'Yeah, I want to start smoking' like, I'm not his dad. I'm just his adviser and hopefully we are on the same team with the same goals," said Bhardwaj.

Some seniors also should consider what medications they are taking, says Bhardwaj.

Medications given in reaction to something like a heart attack or a bypass should sill be taken but some preventative medicines may longer be serving any purpose and it may be worth asking your doctor about.

"That is a reasonable question to approach your doctor and say, 'Look, you know, do I still need to be on this preventative medication even though I've never had the disease?'"

People taking multiple medications should also make sure to review all their medications regularly, says Bhardwaj.

Matter of happiness

"You get side effects so we put you on a second medication to control the side effects of the first one and then so on and so on and that's where a lot of older folks end up on a list of 15 or 16 different medications."

Bhardwaj says it is important to make sure everything you are taking is still compatible and necessary if there have been any changes to your prescriptions.

While Bhardwaj does feel that avoiding unhealthy things is generally a good thing, sometimes it is a matter of happiness.

He recalls a patient with an inoperable brain tumour who did not have long to live.

"You know what really gave him pleasure was to sit down and have a scotch with his son on a Sunday evening."

"I put an order in the chart saying it is OK for the patient to have an ounce of scotch with his son every Sunday and man, the flak that I caught for that. But you know what? It made him happy."


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