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Contributor: Managing Chronic Pain in Seniors


via Cristian Newman @cristian_newman

More than 100 million American adults have chronic pain, which is more than the total number of people with diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer combined, according to figures provided by the American Academy of Pain Medicine. As the population ages, the issue of chronic pain in senior adults becomes more prevalent. Pain management and awareness are becoming more common. One such venture is Pain Awareness month, which is run by the American Chronic Pain Association.

Why Chronic Pain is Such a Big Issue

In 2016, there were approximately 46 million U.S. adults aged 65 and older, with this number expected to rise to 98 million by 2060. Unfortunately, research published by the National Library of Medicine confirms that 50% of adults who live alone and 75 – 85% living in elderly care homes have some form of  chronic pain.

Causes of Chronic Pain

There are many conditions that lead to chronic long term pain in seniors; however, in a survey conducted by the National Institute of Health Statistics, they noted that there are four conditions contributing to the majority of cases.

The most common causes of chronic pain are lower back pain (27%) followed by severe headaches or migraines (15%); neck pain (15%) and facial pain (4%) make up the conditions. These conditions can leave elderly relatives vulnerable to falls, or not being able to get up from a bed or chair. Families are using the latest technologies to provide an early alert that gets help for vulnerable family members.

Back Pain

Chronic low back pain affects approximately 25 million Americans. Roughly one in three adults aged between 65-74 reported chronic back pain in the last three months. As our population continues to age, this condition is likely to become more prevalent.

Headaches and Migraines

While most primary headaches are as similar for seniors as they are for younger people, there are some key differences. Late-life migraines and hypnic headache attacks (also known as “alarm clock” headaches) are often accompanied by visual or sensory phenomena. Hypnic headaches awaken patients from sleep, are short-lived, and mostly affect the elderly.

The other issue for seniors is that certain rescue medications often used to treat younger migraine sufferers or severe headache conditions are often not suitable for seniors because of the risks linked to coronary artery disease.

Pain Management for Seniors

Pain management in seniors is often complicated by the fact that they can have several conditions that require a wider treatment plan. This can often lead to the under-treatment of pain in certain groups because of misdiagnoses.

Individual treatment plans comprised of medication and/or physical therapy will be put together by your medical professional. It is always recommended that seniors lead an active lifestyle and try to get light to moderate physical exercise.

Advancements in science and medicine means that we are living longer and generally in better health. It is inevitable that certain conditions will continue to be a health concern, and chronic pain is one of these. A healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet will always help to improve our overall good health well into our senior years.

Jenny Holt  is a freelance writer and mother of two. She loves nothing more than getting away from it all and taking her pet Labrador Bruce for long walks, something she can do a lot more now she’s left the corporate world behind.

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