Pain Management in Older Adults

None of us like to be in pain. A headache can ruin our day or an injury can leave us sidelined from our favorite activities. For older adults, pain can become even more of a challenge due to chronic conditions and decreased mobility. To complicate matters even further, most seniors struggle with advocating for pain treatment plans, and with managing their pain correctly and safely.

If you have a loved one over the age of 60, you need to be aware of the prevalence of pain in seniors and how to help your loved one get relief.

How Common is Pain in Seniors?

When it comes to pain, more seniors experience it than you might think. The National Institutes of Health reports that chronic pain affects anywhere from 25-85% of seniors. What is startling about this report is not necessarily the numbers, but the spread of the numbers. Are 25% of seniors experiencing chronic pain or are 85%? 

One reason pain management in older adults is so difficult to handle is that we aren’t quite sure how much pain older adults are experiencing. Older adults are not always the best reporters, and might not tell their family members or physicians when they are in pain. Reasons for this under-reporting can include:

  • Cognitive decline, which can make it difficult to express pain.
  • Feeling like the pain they are experiencing is just par for the course of aging (it isn’t).
  • Feeling like they are tough enough to handle it without medication or other treatment.
  • Decreased mobility.

Is My Loved One in Pain?

Is your older loved one included in the 25-85% of older adults who are in pain? Starting a comprehensive pain treatment plan begins with understanding if and when they are in pain. Here are a few ways to determine if your loved one is in pain.

  • Ask them. Use pointed phrases and specific terminology. For example, ask “does your arm hurt, mom?”
  • Watch their body language. If they are favoring one side over the other, it could be due to pain. Other signs might include limping or refusing to let you touch certain areas.
  • If your loved one has cognitive decline, or if they have a neurological disease that causes them to be nonverbal, ensure you are looking for other nonverbal cues that could indicate pain. These might include fidgeting, inability to sit down and settle, pulling or tapping certain areas of their body.

What To Do Next

If your loved one is in pain, or if you suspect it, bring it up with their doctor. Explain what you have observed and get your loved one involved in the conversation as well, if they are able to participate. It’s wise to have their physician tell them their pain is normal and that they can manage it so they feel more comfortable.

Depending on the type of pain, treatment might include:

  • Pain medications, including over-the-counter and prescription
  • Physical and/or occupational therapy
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Warm compresses
  • Increased mobility and exercise
  • Alternative therapies like acupuncture, chiropractic care, or massage

How Home Care Plays a Role in Pain Management

Home care services can play an important role in the pain management plan for your older loved one. Caregivers are trained to observe for new signs of pain or distress and to report those for immediate follow-up. In addition, home care caregivers can assist with:

  • Medication management
  • Helping the senior complete their prescribed range of motion exercise
  • Encourage increased mobility and be there to ensure the activity is safe
  • Driving to and from therapy appointments or other follow-up visits
  • Hydrocortisone injections
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Suprascapular nerve block

If your loved one is struggling with pain management, ensure CaringGivers is a part of your treatment plan. Call us today to set up a free consultation so we can get to know your needs.

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