Pain Management for Seniors

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Pain Management for Seniors

Up to 88% of older adults report some form of chronic pain. Seniors are more vulnerable to chronic pain for a number of reasons, including greater joint and muscle wear, the presence of other medical conditions and a general decrease in activity levels. Chronic pain also leads to a greater risk of accidents such as falls. Older adults who have chronic joint pain or muscle aches, especially in the legs, are 50% more prone to falling than seniors without it. The most common types of chronic pain in seniors are: Arthritis / joint pain, peripheral neuropathy (often associated with diabetes), lingering pain from injuries (such as a rotator cuff tear or hip fracture), Cancer pain and depression-associated pain.

Nevertheless, chronic pain should not be an accepted part of life for older adults. Seniors working with their healthcare providers can learn to manage their conditions and live a full life in spite of pain, no matter what their age. However, dealing with chronic pain in seniors can be a challenge for caregivers because it is often harder to diagnose and treat. Older adults are less likely to be forthcoming about their pain when speaking with their doctors. This could be out of fear of potential illness or because they do not want to appear weak. Seniors often feel that pain comes with age, and that reporting it is unnecessary. Some may also have trouble communicating their pain because of compromised abilities associated with a stroke or even dementia. The result can leave many seniors trying to cope with chronic pain unguided, leaving them open to anxiety and depression.

Pain Treatments
Because of the reticence of many seniors to acknowledge their pain, the most important first step to pain management is for caregivers to carefully monitor and communicate with the senior about the pain he or she might be experiencing. Good communication is the critical first step to effective treatment. A thorough evaluation by the senior’s doctor to determine the causes of pain should follow, along with recommendations for treatment. Here are some treatment options the National Institute of Aging recommends.

Drug Therapy

Pain medications are the most common form of pain management, however they also pose risks for a variety of complications. Older adults tend to have more adverse reactions to pain medications, so all medications need to be monitored closely in seniors, and medication changes may require more time.

Some seniors simply won’t take pain medications because they do not want to suffer the side effects. Additionally, since seniors may have medical conditions that require regular medications, such as heart disease, lung disorders, diabetes and blood pressure problems, caregivers must be vigilant about possible drug interactions. The following are the major pain medication categories:

  • Analgesics such as Acetaminophen are effective for mild to moderate pain. It is not habit-forming but can be dangerous to your liver if taken in high doses.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin and ibuprofen. These over-the-counter pain relievers can be unsafe for people who have high blood pressure.
  • Opioid pain relievers (narcotics) are powerful prescription drugs used to treat moderate to severe pain. They are often prescribed for pain after surgery. They can cause side effects like nausea, constipation, and sleepiness. Several examples are codeine, morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. While these can be very effective, they can also lead to addiction.

Other Pain Therapies 

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses electrical impulses to stimulate nerves in order to relieve pain.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy teaches you how to reduce your reaction to pain.
  • Acupuncture uses tiny needles to stimulate and relieve pain from specific parts of your body.
  • Massage therapy can release the tension in tight muscles.
  • Chiropractic treatment primarily manipulates the spine to address a variety of pain, most commonly lower back pain.
  • Exercising (physical therapy) such as weight training, stretching, walking, yoga and Pilates can complement other pain management therapies.Often a combination of these modalities ends up being most effective, so it can be useful to test a variety of treatment options with the supervision of your doctor.No senior should have to settle for living with pain. With the assistance of a support team of caregivers and medical professionals, and the range of pain treatment options now available, seniors should be able to experience aging with dignity and in comfort.

    By Caren Parnes

    Contributor for Sheridan Care Desert Cities, a proud member of The Seniors Choice