Caregivers work hard every day to prevent injuries and illnesses that cause pain for their aging loved ones. They remove rugs that can cause falls; they check for cuts or bruises that can become painfully infected; they take their loved ones to regular visits with physicians to run tests and try new medication regimens. Yet for many seniors, chronic pain is a reality despite all best efforts, and it must be confronted with good information and a solid plan. Caregivers can support seniors and their physicians in pain management through understanding the unique challenges presented by pain in an aging body. Here are some important facts and tips on how to do that.
It is important for caregivers to be supportive listeners while an elderly loved one deals with unresolved pain.
New research from Medical Clinics of North America says that pain is actually managed after “thorough and multidimensional assessment” by doctors and constant re-evaluation of any treatment. If a loved one is complaining of pain as a result of injury or illness—or is not able to identify a cause yet—a physician should do a thorough examination and any indicated tests for underlying conditions or concerns that could be treated. After that, if the pain persists, it may be time to consider one of the many pain treatment options, including (but not limited to) medications. Caregivers need to be willing to take the time for their loved one to undergo testing and to talk to doctors about how the pain can be safely managed in the meantime.
It is important for caregivers to be supportive listeners while an elderly loved one deals with unresolved pain, which can cause stress, reduce the quality of sleep, cause depression, and limit mobility until properly treated. It is important to note that most pain has a cause; pain is not a natural result of aging.
Once a physician’s examinations and test results have revealed sources of pain, the conversation begins on how to treat the sources and manage any untreatable pain. In addition to or in place of medication, which can cause serious side effects, a doctor may well suggest regular exercise, occupational or physical therapies, or changes in nutrition such as diets or vitamin supplements. All of these are viable options to manage pain, and should be used whenever possible before medication, so long as they effectively deal with chronic pain or increase the efficacy of pain medication. It is also important to prevent older people with chronic pain from becoming depressed, lonely, and socially isolated, since that increases their risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Many older people under-report their pain, as well, so caregivers should encourage and support an elderly loved one in giving honest feedback about whether a pain management regimen is going well or not.
Most pain has a cause; pain is not a natural result of aging.
If an elderly loved one’s doctor recommends an opioid pain reliever, a common way to treat pain, all parties should be aware that this carries a great risk of becoming addictive. It is not guaranteed that users of such medications will become addicted, but it is possible—meaning that doctors need to remain mindful of dosages, and caregivers need to be on the lookout for misuse, especially if elderly loved ones carry other risk factors for addiction (such as addiction to other substances like alcohol or drugs, being depressed or anxious, or having a family history of addiction). Because of this, doctors may begin with very small doses of these medications. Again, encouraging a loved one to be open and honest about how well the medication is working can help greatly improve the pain management plan.
Once a plan is made and enacted, regular consultations with a physician should continue in order to determine whether or not the pain is managed well. Finding non-medicinal ways to manage pain, such as spiritual or physical practice (many find yoga to be a nice mix of both, which is also a way for seniors to remain active and healthy), will also help. Doctors should be involved in deciding what works best for the particular person’s health. Regular checkups will work to overcome various obstacles, such as a change in tolerance for medication, new underlying conditions, and aspects of the plan that simply are not working. As a team, caregivers can manage the pain an elderly loved one is experiencing, and work to keep the person living free from the stress and worry of pain.
Cavaleri, Thomas A. (June 2007). Managing Pain in Geriatric Patients. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 107: ES10-ES16. Available at http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2093506. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
Kaye, Alan D., Baluch, Amir, and Scott, Jared T. (Fall 2010). Pain Management in the Elderly Population: A Review. The Ochsner Journal, 10(3): 179-187. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096211/. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
Malec, Monica and Shega, Joseph W. (March 2015). Pain Management in the Elderly. Medical Clinics of North America, 99(2): 337-350. Available at http://saludesa.org.ec/biblioteca/DOLOR/MANEJO_DEL_DOLOR_EN_ANCIANOS.pdf. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
Vadivelu, Nalini and Hines, Roberta L. (September 2008). Management of chronic pain in the elderly: focus on transdermal buprenorphine. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 3(3): 421-430. Available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2682375/. Retrieved August 10, 2016.