November 10th, 2011 at 3:37 pm
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Dealing with elders and chronic pain management

by Dorian Martin

My Dad recently panicked because he misplaced the prescription that eases his chronic pain. He has spinal stenosis, arthritis and degenerative spinal discs, which make it difficult for him to stand, walk or bend to pick anything off the floor. Therefore, this drug is a very important part of his medical arsenal.

So what is chronic pain? Unlike acute pain (which is resolved when the cause is treated and healing occurs), chronic pain usually lasts more than three months and is believed to cause changes in the nervous system that become progressively worse over time. The most common types of chronic pain are headaches, lower back pain, arthritis pain, cancer pain, and nerve and muscle pain.

Elders and chronic pain: your elder is not alone

My dad is not alone. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 76 million Americans live with chronic pain. Furthermore, 50% of older adults who are independent and 75-85% who are in care facilities experience chronic pain. Almost 60% of these elders have experienced chronic pain for more than a year. And sadly, almost half of all Americans who have chronic pain have not sought treatment. Not seeking medical attention can be problematic since untreated chronic pain in elders can lead to additional health issues, such as depression, anxiety, decreased mobility, social isolation and poor sleep.

Specialized care is available to elders who have chronic pain. For example, Dad has established a care team that includes a physician and nurse practitioner who specialize in chronic pain and who work in concert with Dad’s primary care physician and pharmacist. Dad also has had to vigilant about using his pain patches.

Elders and chronic pain medication

If an elder suffers from chronic pain, seek medical assistance. If your elder is prescribed pain medications, the NIH recommends addressing the following questions with the care team:

  1. What is the cause of the pain and what can be done to treat it?
  2. What is the name of the prescribed pain medication?
  3. How long does the pain medication take to work?
  4. Are there any potential side effects?
  5. What schedule should the elder follow for taking the pain medication?
  6. What should my elder do if he/she forgets to take their pain medication?
  7. Are there any dangers associated with taking this pain medication?
  8. Will the pain medication interact with any other drugs my elder is prescribed?

Dad would be the first to say that managing chronic pain makes a world of difference in a person’s quality of life.

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