Helping Seniors Manage Pain
Advice for families and caregivers
Many seniors live with pain, which can be either acute (intense but short-lived) or chronic (lasting six weeks or more). Whatever the source, the techniques for managing pain are the same. The goal is to minimize the pain while maximizing the patient's ability to live a normal life.
My parent won't try any relaxation techniques for her pain. What can I do to convince her?
How can I convince my parent to discuss the pain he is experiencing with his doctor?
Are anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication used for pain management?
Where can my parent find others in chronic pain to speak with?
Would seeing an occupational therapist help my parent cope with pain?
My parent fears becoming addicted to pain medication. Is that likely?
How do I find a caregiver for my parent who has chronic pain?
In addition to taking pain medication, as prescribed by your parent's doctor, different people have found these techniques helpful:
- Distraction -- taking one's mind off the pain by doing such things as watching TV, going to a movie, getting together with a friend, listening to music, or meditating -- can help manage pain.
- Relaxation techniques -- reducing stress and helping muscles relax -- can reduce pain.
- Hypnosis -- inducing a state of trance-like relaxed awareness -- can be used to block or reinterpret the sensation of pain.
- Physical therapy -- which improves blood and oxygen flow to muscles and helps relax them -- can relieve pain.
- Electrical nerve stimulation -- sending low-voltage electrical currents through the skin via electrodes placed near the source of pain to stimulate nerves and send signals to the brain -- can interfere with pain awareness
- Heat and/or cold -- heat can relax the muscles while cold can numb them -- can interrupt pain.
- Support groups -- which can enable your parent to feel less alone and share coping strategies -- can help.
- Pain treatment centers -- facilities that specialize in pain treatment and use the latest techniques -- can help. The American Chronic Pain Association has tips on finding the right pain treatment center.
- Counseling -- which provides support and someone to discuss the pain with -- can help.
- Exercise -- releases endorphins (which enhance a self of well-being), improves blood and oxygen flow to muscles, and helps them relax -- can reduce pain.
- Stress management -- interrupts the pain cycle, as stress leads to muscle tensing, which causes more pain -- reduces pain.
- Proper nutrition -- enables one's body to cope with anything, including pain -- helps manage pain.
- Getting enough sleep -- people who don't sleep well tense up, increasing pain -- so sleeping well reduces pain.
- Yoga -- can help relax muscles, but must be done carefully, so as not to aggravate the situation -- can help reduce pain.
- Tai chi -- a series of gentle movements during which the practitioner focuses on movement and breathing, producing a state of relaxation and calm -- can reduce stress and pain.
- Acupuncture -- a technique where thin needles inserted into specific points in the body get energy flowing correctly and promote self-healing -- can reduce pain.
All you can do is get information about the various options for your parent, who then can try the ones that seem most compatible. If none appeal to your parent, there isn't much else you can do. Perhaps your parent will try one at another time.
Many seniors, brought up during the Depression, were raised with the notion that it is weak and self-indulgent to complain. They find it easier to try to ignore pain than to discuss it.
- You can try to educate your parent that physicians treat symptoms of pain just as they would treat any other medical symptom, and that in order to treat the symptom, the doctor will need to understand it. Therefore, explaining the specific pain sensation (burning, tingling, stabbing, etc.), as well as its location, what improves or worsens it, how long it lasts, where and when it occurs, and how severe it is, will be necessary.
- In order to adequately explain the pain, your parent will need to pay attention to it and take notes.
Many also feel that taking medication for pain is a sign of weakness and worry that they will become, or be perceived as, a drug addict.
- Reassure your parent that it is rare for people who have not already had addiction problems to become addicted to pain medication.
- Of course, your parent's age, the stage of disease your parent has, and his or her prognosis, will all affect the appropriate level of pain medication needed. People with end-stage diseases will receive maximum levels of pain medication, while those in other stages may not.
Yes, many pain treatment centers find that anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, in addition to pain medication, do help people manage chronic pain. They enhance a sense of well-being and improve the patient's ability to sleep, which then helps the muscles to relax, and can interfere with the pain cycle.
Your parent can speak to his or her doctor about it, or if that doctor is not experienced in treating pain, your parent can consider going to a pain treatment center. There are many centers, and they vary in quality and approach. Attending the right one can help your parent better manage his or her pain.
Your parent would find people in his or her situation in a pain support group. For online chronic pain support groups:
There are also many support groups that meet in person. Search on the internet for your parent's zip code plus "chronic pain support group" to find one near you.
It is worth meeting with an occupational therapist -- someone trained to help people overcome disabilities to function in work and home environments -- to see if the OT can help your parent relearn how to perform simple tasks in ways that reduce pain.
Most people do not become addicted to pain medication unless they have already exhibited symptoms of addiction problems. If your parent hasn't had addiction problems in the past, it may make sense for your parent to speak to his or her physician about treating the pain.
Care.com is a website that lists people throughout the United States who provide care to seniors, includes photos and descriptions of their experience, and does free background checks for members. You can search by zip code. For specific listings, go to Care.com.