Managing pain in older people
It is thought that pain in the elderly population often goes under reported due to stoicism. Older people tend to ‘put up’ with severe discomfort and pain, because they don’t want to be ‘a nuisance’. Unfortunately not addressing pain can have negative long term consequences, including reduced mobility and depression and so managing pain in older people is critical.
What can you do to manage pain?
So, what can you do to help your older relative if you suspect (or they tell you) they are suffering from persistent pain?
Clearly the first step is to visit the GP to get a proper diagnosis and medical opinion. If your older relative is otherwise healthy, then painkillers will normally be prescribed.
Of course, some older people genuinely dislike taking painkillers and if this is the case, there are other approaches to managing and reducing pain:
Pain Clinics and Pain Management Programmes
The British Pain Society has some useful advice and resources, including a link to Pain Clinics. There are around 300 pain clinics in the UK, mostly located in hospitals staffed by multidisciplinary teams who work together to help people with pain, including occupational therapists, psychologists, doctors, and physiotherapists. The aim is to help people manage chronic pain and maintain a good quality of life.
More advice on how to get NHS help for managing pain and referrals for pain management programmes can be found here.
Remaining physical active as you age is vital to stay healthy and maintain independence. Regular exercise is known to improve general health, help maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of falls, heart disease and stroke. It also helps to reduce and manage pain.
Even if your older parent has never been particularly sporty or interested in exercising, it’s never too late to start. It’s important for older people to keep moving and avoid spending too many hours sitting down.
Here are some good suggestions to get started. Remember, there are lots of ways to get physical exercise – walking, gardening, golf, bowls, tennis, swimming, dancing, tai chi, and yoga are just a few suggestions.
Older people are recommended to do around 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, with a target of achieving 30 minutes on at least five days a week. At least two days a week, activities should focus on strengthening muscles.
One of the benefits of regular exercise is that it helps people to relax, and proper relaxation can help to reduce stress caused by chronic pain. There are many relaxation techniques that older people can try – from breathing exercises to meditation. The important thing here is that regular practice should help to reduce pain.
Your older parent’s GP should be able to offer advice and there may be local classes your parent can attend.
As well as helping people who are recovering from injury or illness, physiotherapy for the elderly can help maintain physical function and enhance their psychological and social well being, subsequently reducing pain. Importantly, physiotherapy includes specific exercises designed to improve or increase coordination, flexibility, endurance, balance, strength, and general range of motion. This all helps to improve circulation, reduce pain and the risk of falls.
Physiotherapy is available through the NHS (via a GP referral), through the voluntary sector, and privately.
Sometimes, simply shifting your attention onto something else can help take one’s mind off moderate pain. Depending on what your older relative is interested in, you can try suggesting such activities as watching TV, going to the cinema, visiting a friend, listening to music, doing a crossword, or spending time enjoying a favourite hobby, such as singing, knitting or photography.
Taking them out for the day can also provide them with stimulation and company that helps to distract them from dwelling too much on their aches and pains.
This 2,000 year-old technique uses ultra-fine sterile needles inserted into specific parts of the body to rebalance energy, promote self-healing, and reduce pain. We wrote about the potential benefits of acupuncture here.
Acupuncture is sometimes available on the NHS, so it’s worth checking with your parent’s GP.