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October 2011 Newsletter | Fedelta Home Care, Seattle WA
October 06, 2011
October 2011 Newsletter
Pain has always been one of the great challenges for medical science. Pain cannot be seen or touched—it can only be described and reported by the person who is experiencing a painful condition. But today, we have new ways to treat pain, and a new understanding of how pain impacts the lives of seniors. According to the Gerontological Society of America, "The improved management of chronic pain can significantly reduce disability in older adults." This is a goal that everyone who works with older adults can share! In this month’s Fedelta eNewsletter, we look at some of the current issues in the field of geriatric pain management.
Seniors Are Most Likely to Experience Pain, Least Likely to Report It
For many seniors, pain presents a challenge! They were raised in a time when discussing pain was often viewed as "complaining." As one 86-year-old man explained it, "I suffer from a spinal condition stemming from injuries sustained in World War II. My family calls me a hero, but I’ve also noticed that no one wants to hear you talk about your aches and pains all the time." This man's condition deteriorated until a pain specialist convinced him that being forthright about his pain was the first step towards finding the most effective treatment.
For seniors, managing pain effectively is essential to being able to live life to the fullest. Although pain isn't a "natural part of aging," painful diseases and conditions, such as osteoporosis, shingles, arthritis and diabetic neuropathy become more common as we grow older. Sometimes pain results from damage to the nerves themselves. And in some cases, pain seems to have no explanation. Today, chronic pain is now often described as a disease in its own right.
Seniors and families should never assume that nothing can be done about pain. Treating pain prevents a cycle of decline that is unfortunately common in older adults: Pain causes inactivity…which increases pain…which causes the senior to be even less active…and the downward spiral continues. Take steps now to be sure everything possible is being done.
Pain Medications and Older Adults
Many seniors worry about becoming addicted to pain medications and therefore choose to live with the pain, becoming more and more disabled as a result. But pain specialists tell us that ignoring chronic pain early on may allow a pattern of pain to become established! Patients are no longer advised to "tough it out," but to discuss pain with their healthcare provider right away.
In many cases, medication is the most effective treatment. It is important to find the right medication and the right dosage. A senior's healthcare provider may prescribe pain control drugs, including over-the-counter products (such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen); opioid (narcotic) analgesics; antidepressants; muscle relaxants; corticosteroids; and topical medications.
It's important to be aware that medications can affect us differently as we grow older. Decreased digestive and kidney function may cause substances to be excreted more slowly, which may allow a toxic dose to build up. Some side effects, such as gastrointestinal irritation, dizziness and constipation, become more common in older adults.
In addition, many seniors take medications for multiple conditions, increasing the possibility of adverse drug interactions. It is important that a person's pharmacist and all healthcare providers are aware of all medications being taken, both prescription and over-the-counter. Seniors should ask for an annual review of their prescriptions.
While appropriate pain medication helps millions of seniors control pain, drugs are only the beginning. Pain specialists now offer treatments ranging from physical therapy, electrostimulation, injections and surgery on the nerves.
Biofeedback and stress reduction techniques can also reduce the perception of pain. In the old days, people who suffered chronic pain were sometimes dismissed by being told that their pain was "all in their head." Ironically, new brain imaging now shows that this is literally true: even if we hit our thumb with a hammer, pain happens in our brain, not in our thumb. Neurologists today can observe the workings of pain in the brain, and understand the brain's role in our perception of pain. As author Melanie Thernstrom says in her book The Pain Chronicles, pain is "a complex aspect of consciousness," involving several areas of the brain at the same time. Innovative new treatments are expected to target a person's very specific type of pain.
Pain control is often a matter of trial and error. The key is not to give up! If a treatment fails, this does not mean the patient has failed. The last thing seniors who are experiencing pain need is to be discounted, or to be told to "just deal with it." Instead, they should be empowered to recognize pain management as an integral part of their healthcare and well-being.
This year, the National Institute of Medicine called for a new, nationwide emphasis on pain control. Seniors and families should be first in line to embrace this cultural transformation!
Fedelta Care Solutions helps senior clients who are dealing with the challenges of chronic pain.
- Fedelta's Registered Nurses and Certified Nursing Assistants assist senior clients in following their pain control regimen as prescribed by their doctor.
- Fedelta's Geriatric Care Managers locate community resources, including support groups, specialized exercise classes, and senior living communities.
- Fedelta in-home caregivers help clients manage medications: filling prescriptions, taking them correctly, and being alert to possible negative side effects.
- The companionship and support of Fedelta in-home caregivers encourages physical activity and socialization, both of which diminish depression and pain.
- When painful conditions make household tasks and personal care a challenge, Fedelta caregivers provide an "extra set of hands" to keep seniors safe and comfortable at home.