For most seniors, the older they seem to get, the more pain they often have to deal with. In addition to the everyday aches and pains that so many older adults unfortunately have to deal with, many seniors are also dealing with chronic pain in their everyday lives. It can be understandably frustrating for the many seniors who deal with chronic pain on a daily basis, as it is often completely undetectable to the naked eye. Others may not even know that these seniors are dealing with chronic pain, yet they must handle the burden every day.
Chronic pain is so common among seniors that many studies predict that 50% or more of older adults living at home and up to 80% of adults living in assisted living communities are dealing with chronic pain. Many of these seniors are unable to find the relief that they need. When left untreated, chronic pain won't just cause daily discomfort among seniors, it can actually become so debilitating that it prevents seniors from moving, leaving their home, sleeping or eating. It can also cause serious issues with depression, social isolation and anxiety. Other studies have found that individuals with chronic pain are much more likely to develop additional physical or psychological problems due to their pain issues.
Treating Chronic Pain in Seniors
Many seniors are taking a number of pain medications in order to keep their extreme discomfort at bay. However, this typically isn't enough as many of these pain medications can interfere with other medications or cause their own serious side effects. Most doctors will try to get to the source of the pain and prevent what is causing the issue instead of covering up the symptoms. This is often the best way to prevent seniors from needing extensive pain medications in order to function.
Physical therapy and occupational therapy are great ways for seniors with an injury to get the chronic pain help they need. However, not every source of chronic pain is from an injury. Arthritis is actually the most common source of chronic pain among seniors and while some therapies can help there are limited options when it comes to arthritis pain. Those with internal issues that cause ongoing pain may want to consider serious treatments such as surgery in order to remedy their pain.
Every situation is different, and new approaches are being developed specifically to help seniors who deal with chronic pain, so that no older adult will need to live the remainder of their lives in discomfort. While many seniors do deal with varying levels of pain each and every day, when pain starts to get out of control, it is important that they see a doctor right away for assistance. A doctor should be called immediately if:
- Seniors exhibit a sudden inability to move or walk due to severe pain
- The pain becomes so bad seniors are unable to talk or function
- There is a new type of pain forming
- The pain the senior is experience is causing them to panic or causing distress
- The ongoing pain has become so bad that the senior talks of taking their own life or not wanting to live anymore
- Seniors are unable to sleep due to their pain
- There are adverse side effects to the senior's pain medication
- Seniors are having difficulty coping with their pain or the situations their pain has put them in
Situations such as this require immediate attention and are beyond the scope of normal, daily chronic pain.
How Loved Ones Can Help
Before any senior can explore their pain options, they will need help in bringing their issue to light. Many seniors are unable or ashamed to admit that they are dealing with chronic pain. In these situations, it is up to their loved ones or caregivers to step in and help their senior get to the bottom of the issue. For seniors who are unable to communicate their issues or feelings with pain, they may need their caregiver to look for signs that a serious problem is forming.
Here are some of the top signs and symptoms for caregivers to look for:
- Teary eyes or crying
- Knitted eyebrows
- Insomnia or an inability to sleep
- Thrashing or writhing in pain while trying to sleep
- Severely decreased activity levels
- Wincing while moving
- Knitted eyebrows especially while doing certain activities
- Wrinkled foreheads
- Moaning when being moved
- Being overly sensitive to even light touch
- Clenching fists
- Stiffening the upper or lower body while moving or holding one area of the body rigidly while moving
- Decreased appetite
- Being suspiciously quiet about questions regarding pain
Communication is one of the biggest keys to helping seniors diagnose and get help with their chronic pain. However, many seniors are not communicating their pain issues to others. Some seniors are ashamed; others are unable to communicate while some may just not know how to explain the pain or discomfort they are feeling. Many seniors also worry that their pain is a symptom of a more serious or developing health issue.
This is why caregivers need to be alert. In addition to helping their loved ones visit the doctor and helping them with any associated therapies they may need, caregivers can also do a great service to their senior loved one by helping them take their mind off of their chronic pain. This is important for both seniors receiving in home care and those who are living in assisted living or nursing home communities.
For many seniors, isolation is one of the things that make their chronic pain worse. Being unable to focus on anything besides pain and feeling trapped or alone; with pain can only make it worse. Caregivers can step in with activities, short walks, outings or just conversation to help their senior loved ones get their minds off their chronic pain and on to the more important parts of their lives.