Nearly 100 million Americans experience chronic pain—more than those who have diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Understanding more about the underlying causes of pain can help improve treatments and alleviate suffering.
September was Pain Awareness Month. During the month, various organizations worked to raise public awareness of issues in the area of pain and pain management. The adoption of pain as the “fifth vital sign” helped increase the legitimacy of pain as not just a symptom but a serious detriment to quality of life, requiring proper medical attention. It also helped promote the idea that every person has a right to timely and effective pain management.
You, your patient or loved one might want to take this short quiz to determine the affect pain has on your/their quality of life.
Pain is a warning sign indicating that a problem needs attention. Living with pain can be debilitating. Educating caregivers on how to properly assess and treat pain is vital because pain can cause:
- Exhaustion from lack of rest and comfort
- Increase of other symptoms in the elderly or those who are cognitively impaired
- Physical, psychological, and social debilitation
- Decreased overall quality of everyday life and ability to work
Some common causes of pain are arthritis, back problems and headaches.
Arthritis: Arthritis refers to over 100 different conditions ranging from autoimmune disease to normal joint inflammation. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis — treatment plans often involve both short-term and long-term approaches.
Back Pain: According to the National Institutes of Health, eight out of ten people will have back pain at some time in their life. Over the years, the treatments for back pain have changed, so be sure to check with your doctor or a pain specialist before beginning treatment.
Headaches: Millions of people get crippling headaches, and there are dozens of different headache types — but receiving the right diagnosis is key to getting the right treatment. Migraines, perhaps the most well-known, can be triggered by stress, fatigue, or certain foods, and researchers claim obese patients are five times more likely to develop chronic migraines.
Many seniors live with pain, which can be either acute (intense but short-lived) or chronic (lasting six weeks or more). There are many different methods and techniques for treating pain, both chronic and acute. Whatever the source, the goal is to minimize the pain while maximizing the person’s ability to live a normal life. In addition to taking pain medication, as prescribed by your loved one’s doctor, people often find 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.
- Relaxation techniques— reducing stress and helping muscles relax.
- Hypnosis— a state of trance-like relaxed awareness can block or reinterpret the sensation of pain.
- Physical therapy— improves blood and oxygen flow to muscles and helps relax them.
- Heat and/or cold— heat can relax the muscles while cold can numb them, interrupting pain.
- Support groups– feeling less alone and sharing 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.
- Exercise— releases endorphins (which enhance a self of well-being), improves blood and oxygen flow to muscles, and helps them relax.
- Proper nutrition— enables one’s body to cope with anything, including pain.
- Getting enough sleep— people who don’t sleep well tense up, increasing pain.
How can I convince my loved one to discuss the pain he or she is experiencing with a doctor?
Many seniors 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.
- Try to convince your loved one that physicians treat pain just as they would treat any other medical symptom, and that in order to treat the symptom, the doctor needs to understand it. Patients will need to explain 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.
- Many people 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 loved one that it is rare for people who have not already had addiction problems to become addicted to pain medication. Of course, age and his or her prognosis will affect the appropriate level of pain medication needed. People with end-stage diseases receive maximum levels of pain medication, while those in other stages may not.
Are anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication used for pain management?
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.
Would seeing an occupational therapist help someone in pain to cope?
Meeting with an occupational therapist—someone trained to help people overcome disabilities to function in work and home environments—may help your parent learn how to perform simple tasks in ways that reduce pain.
How do I find a caregiver for my parent who has chronic pain?
Dakota Travel Nurse Home Care can help. When you call us, we will come to your parent’s home, and with you and him or her present, do a Free personal evaluation. We offer services on an hourly, daily, or live-in care basis. When you engage the services of one of our trained professionals, we will constantly monitor the situation to ensure that your elderly parents are getting the help they need and adjusting well to their caregiver(s).