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Managing Severe Chronic Pain in the Elderly

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 20.4% of adults in the United States suffered from chronic pain in 2019, with at least 7.4% of those adults experiencing enough chronic pain to limit their life or work activities on a frequent basis. Chronic pain increases with age, with seniors over the age of 65 experiencing the most frequent levels of chronic pain.

When you think of pain, it’s often thought of as a symptom of another condition, but is chronic pain a chronic illness in itself? The answer to that is yes! Chronic pain is actually categorized as its own chronic condition with its own varying treatment methods regardless of the cause of the pain.

What is An Example of Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain can be defined as pain that continues for 12 or more weeks despite treatment methods. Pain can include frequent headaches, pain from nerve damage, low back pain, or pain from chronic illnesses or conditions, such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. Pain can also be felt in various levels, from mild pain to severe pain. What qualifies as severe chronic pain? Well, that can be hard to define, as pain levels are based on the individual. One method of measuring levels of pain is to use a pain scale of 1-10, with 1 being least amount of pain and 10 being the most severe pain. On such a scale, pain levels of 8 or more are often considered severe chronic pain.

If chronic pain continues long enough, it might develop into what’s known as chronic pain syndrome. What is the difference between chronic pain and chronic pain syndrome? While chronic pain simply refers to the pain felt on a constant basis, chronic pain syndrome extends beyond that pain and occurs when the patient develops additional symptoms as a result, such as depression or anxiety, which interfere with their daily lives. Approximately 25% of individuals who experience chronic pain may go on to develop chronic pain syndrome.

Chronic Pain in the Elderly

Chronic pain is common in the elderly population because seniors are more likely to experience illnesses or conditions that contribute to chronic pain. These include cancer, degenerative spine conditions, diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular or neurological diseases. Inflammatory conditions common to seniors, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can also play a role because chronic pain and inflammation often go hand in hand – inflammation can cause a flare-up of arthritis, contributing to chronic pain.

If you or your senior loved one is experiencing chronic pain, it’s necessary to know how to deal with the effects of the pain as well as the proper chronic pain management methods for elderly individuals. Because the elderly are more likely to experience co-occurring chronic illnesses, treatment can be made more difficult, especially as seniors tend to have more adverse reactions to various therapies. Successful pain management can depend on several factors, including:

  • Taking a pain assessment and a careful history of the individual’s pain experience.
  • Looking at treatment options without medication first. This includes physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy or interventional techniques provided by a specialist or through a rehabilitation and health care center like Crystal Pines.
  • Attempting pain management through medication, starting with non-opioid medicines (topical agents, NSAIDs, anticonvulsants, etc.) and moving to opioid therapy if needed.

Attempting treatment without medication first is particularly important for older patients to help avoid adverse reactions associated with medicinal approaches, including addiction to certain kinds of medication. These treatments also tend to see an enhanced benefit when combined with drug therapies later in treatment.

Manage Your Pain at Crystal Pines

Not sure where to start with pain management for you or your elderly loved one? Our staff at Centro de Rehabilitación y Cuidado de la Salud Crystal Pines can help. Located in Crystal Lake, IL, our expert care team will work with you or your loved one together with your doctors and family to create a personalized care plan based on your individual needs and health goals.

At Crystal Pines, our comprehensive approach to care includes services such as post-surgical recovery; physical, occupational and speech therapy; pain management; wound care; IV therapy; balanced therapeutic diets and more, all in a comfortable setting. Regardless of the length of your stay – short-term or long-term – you’ll enjoy your experience at our engaging community. And our licensed, experienced health care professionals are here to help you manage your pain safely and effectively, ensuring proper medication management and adherence to therapy plans along the way.

Take the first step to feeling better by contacting us at 815-459-7791, or by scheduling a personalized consultation for you or a loved one. We look forward to serving you and to helping you live life pain-free!