What you need to know about older adults and pain

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. It is a leading cause of disability and it is a major contributor to health care costs. For some people with chronic pain, the COVID-19 pandemic might can intensify life stressors that may result in pain flare-ups, and increase the need for pain management. For older people, pain can be devastating to their quality of life. It can prevent their mobility, disrupt sleeping and impact their eating habits. It can also lead to depression, anxiety and social isolation. However, among seniors, pain is often underreported or dismissed as a natural part of aging.

Pain, especially chronic pain, should not be ignored as simply a part of getting older. Whether minor or intense, pain is the physical sign that something is not right in the body. Untreated persistent pain can only worsen over time and possibly lead to more serious conditions. Cognitive or communication issues among older people can also contribute to the presence of pain not being reported. To help older residents maintain their quality of life, care providers in the long-term health care environment should be vigilant about recognizing the signs of pain in the elderly.

Non-verbal signs of pain
  • Decreased activity levels
  • Poor eating habits
  • Change in gait
  • Heavy breathing
  • Resistance to certain movements during care
  • Holding or rubbing one area of the body
  • Sensitivity to light touch
  • Grimacing or frowning
  • Writhing or constant shifting in bed
  • Moaning, groaning, whimpering or crying
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Fidgeting
  • Guarding the area of pain or withdrawing from touch to that area
Types of pain treatments

After evaluating a resident’s medical history and determining the causes of pain, a doctor can make recommendations for treatment. Some possible treatments include:

  • Acetaminophen may help all types of pain, especially mild to moderate pain. Acetaminophen is found in over-the-counter and prescription medicines. People who have liver disease should not take acetaminophen.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. Long-term use of some NSAIDs can cause side effects, like internal bleeding or kidney problems, which make them unsafe for many older adults.
  • Narcotics (also called opioids) are used for moderate to severe pain and require a doctor’s prescription. They may be habit-forming. They can also be dangerous when taken with alcohol or certain other drugs. Examples of narcotics are codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.
  • Other medications are sometimes used to treat pain. These include antidepressants, anticonvulsive medicines, local painkillers, like nerve blocks or patches and ointments, and creams.

The Compliance Store has education resources on pain, policies, regulatory information and a Binder Basics on medication management. To learn more, contact us at 877-582-7347.