Jokes about the aches and pains associated with aging are likely not funny to seniors living with chronic pain. Treating chronic pain with opioids is common among the senior population. This is incredibly risky seeing as the elderly population in America is the fastest growing group of opioid abusers.
Chronic pain is not a normal part of the aging process. An article by Ivan R. Molton and Alexandra L. Terrill of the University of Washington Medical Center and published by American Psychologist, discusses chronic pain in seniors at length. They indicate that while there is a common perception that a person experiences increased pain as they age, any pain that affects function, “Is not a normal part of aging.”
Some seniors and physicians alike probably believe there is no reason for alarm or need for diagnostic testing when a senior experiences pain. This common misperception is likely a contributing factor when seniors do not discuss their pain with their doctor until it becomes severe and significantly curtails daily functioning.
Sources indicate that as many as one in three seniors fill at least one prescription for opioids during any given year, with some seniors receiving five or more opioid prescriptions within a year.
Some conditions that lead physicians to write opioid prescriptions for their senior patients include joint pains, arthritis, neuropathies, inflammation, neuralgia, back pain and neck pain.
Seniors experiencing chronic pain are also at risk for developing sleep disturbances and depression, further contributing to their distress.
Opioid Addiction among Seniors
Opioid medications, often prescribed for pain experienced by older individuals, poses the same risks and side effects that occur with younger people taking opioids. Although discussions and beliefs about addiction often turn to the younger population, the true yet unseen face of this epidemic is senior citizens.
The American Bar Association points out that statistics show a 145 percent increase in the number of seniors visiting emergency rooms across the U.S. over a 12-year period. Almost eight percent of all adults over the age of 65 visiting the emergency room in 2014 did so for opioid-related dependence reasons.
Seniors addicted to opioids demonstrate some of the same drug-seeking behaviors as younger people. These behaviors include seeking opioid prescription medications from multiple medical providers, stealing prescription pads from the doctor’s office and purchasing opioids on the street.
Seniors seeking opioids come from both higher and lower income areas.
Another issue regarding opioid use among the elderly is the fact that many seniors are not informed of possible dangers of prescription opioids.
Physicians also seem to fail to discuss alternatives with their patients. Results of a recent poll indicated that less than one-half of seniors received information about the risk of addiction and other important advice.
Pain Relief and Management without Use of Opioids
The risks associated with dependence and addiction is starting to bring some physicians to consider alternative treatment methods for pain experienced by seniors.
Physical therapy helps seniors improve function lost because of chronic pain.
Physical therapists specialize in implementing individual treatment plans for patients and assists patients with reducing pain through a variety of techniques. Some techniques used in physical therapy include deep-muscle massage, ultrasound, whirlpool and exercise.
Biofeedback involves training the patient to gain better control over bodily processes such as controlling migraines, tension, and chronic pain.
Biofeedback recently began receiving greater attention as a non-invasive approach to treating pain.
Acupuncturists develop and implement plans that treat each individual’s specific pain. Acupuncture disrupts the transmission of pain signals to your brain.
Injections and nerve blocks
Injections of medications into painful areas via a specialized epidural process or other procedure are other non-opioid treatments for pain.
There are different types of injections that the doctor discusses with each senior before the procedure. A nerve block or ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that blocks nerve roots, essentially turning off the pain signal.
The bottom line is this: seniors are just as capable of becoming addicted to opioids as their younger counterparts. Doctors need to do a better job of treating seniors that experience chronic pain without prescribing long-term use of opioids—there are sometimes better alternatives to pain pills.
The American Nurses Association stresses the fact that pain is not a normal part of aging as some other sources finally realize. Establishing realistic pain management goals and giving seniors direct input in their pain management plan is essential to keeping a senior patient happy and not addicted to dangerous pain meds.