February 12, 2020

Pain is a fact of life for millions of seniors — which makes knowing how to help older adults identify, manage, and relieve their pain a high priority for family caregivers.

For seniors, pain often takes many different forms, and can stem from many different causes. 

For many older adults, chronic pain is a natural result of decades of wear and tear on the body’s muscles, nerves, and joints. In other cases, pain may be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as diabetes. Conditions like osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, and arthritis can also lead to pain, as can mental health conditions like depression. Other seniors may even experience what has been called “invisible” pain, which doesn’t present an easily identifiable root cause. In all seniors, physical pain may be exacerbated by malnutrition, lack of sleep, or a lack of physical activity. 

Pain in the Elderly, By the Numbers

According to data from the National Institute of Health (NIH), 50% of older adults who live on their own and 75-85% of the elderly in care facilities may suffer from chronic pain. Research cited by Practical Pain Management suggests that more than half of all seniors experience “bothersome” pain in a given month, with roughly 75% reporting pain in more than one location. The resource Seniors Matter notes that “6% of older adults have disabling back pain and 23% have non-disabling back pain,” according to research.

A study published in The BMJ states that chronic pain is, “one of the most common conditions encountered by healthcare professionals, particularly among older patients.” Yet experts also agree that pain is often undertreated among the elderly. Many older adults are reluctant to talk about consistent physical pain, whether because they don’t believe it can be helped or because they see it as a natural part of aging. In other cases, older adults may have trouble recognizing pain or communicating their feelings, often due to cognitive changes, such as dementia. 

The Effects of Chronic Pain for Seniors

Over time, leaving chronic pain untreated can lead to a host of physical, emotional, and social effects for seniors, including: 

Often, these effects can pile on top of one another and snowball, as the Harvard Health blog explains. For example? An older adult may try to cope with pain in their muscles or joints by avoiding physical activity. In time, this very real loss of mobility can have “profound social, psychological, and physical consequences.”

As Dr. Suzanne Salamon, a Harvard Medical School instructor, puts it: 

“If you’re unable to get out then you can’t go shopping, you can’t go out with your friends to eat dinner or go to the movies, and you become dependent on other people to get you places. So you become a recluse, you stay home, you get depressed. With immobilization comes incontinence, because you can’t get to the bathroom, you can develop urinary infections, skin infections. The list goes on.”

Similarly, falls can be a major cause of pain for older adults — while suffering from pain can also increase a senior’s likelihood of experiencing a damaging fall. In any case, preventing falls is a key priority for many older adults and family caregivers. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as one in four seniors suffer a fall annually. An older adult is treated for a fall in the emergency room roughly every 11 seconds, and falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries and 800,000 hospitalizations per year.

How Can Family Caregivers Help Seniors With Pain Management?

As a loving family member to an older adult, it may be important for you to take action, and help encourage your senior loved one to be proactive about preventing, managing, and reducing their pain. 

One of the most important first steps you can take is to keep a close eye on your loved one, to see if they are exhibiting any of the most common warning signs for physical pain. The American Geriatric Society urges caregivers to look for “yellow flags” such as: 

  • Groaning or moaning when moving, sitting, or standing
  • Consistent grimacing, clenched fists, or closed eyes
  • Slow, stiff, or awkward movement
  • Lethargy or decreased activity level
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability and rapid changes in mood
  • Trouble holding or grasping things

In addition to noting how they move, you might also keep an eye on your loved one’s behavior and living environment. Do they seem to be more isolated or withdrawn? Are they avoiding light physical activities, like cooking, letting the dog out, or getting dressed? Take note of the medications your loved one is taking, and be sure to familiarize yourself with their medical history, such as prior hospitalizations, surgeries, or diagnoses. If you notice any major changes, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. 

As a family caregiver, it can also be daunting to know where to turn for help. Fortunately, there are most likely many resources nearby that can help your loved one manage their chronic pain — and make it easier to get a handle on their day-to-day activities.

Medical Attention, Treatment, and Care

Turning to a doctor who specializes in pain management can help your elderly loved one get the specialized attention they need to get to the bottom of their pain. An experienced medical professional can help your loved one identify the underlying causes behind their pain, and help treat its widespread effects on an ongoing basis. 

One potentially useful option may be to look for an experienced chiropractic care facility near you. Here in Chicago, for instance, chiropractic physicians such as Dr. Rae Bouvin of Pro-Holistic Care can help people of all ages get the holistic care they need. Located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, Pro-Holistic Care is a family health and wellness center that helps patients achieve their optimal health naturally, through chiropractic care, nutrition, physical fitness, and a healthy lifestyle.

According to one extensive review of studies, “chiropractic is one of the most frequently utilized types of complementary and alternative care by older adults,” and is used by an estimated 5% of older adults in the U.S. annually. The same review estimates that 14% of patients treated by doctors of chiropractic (DCs) are 65 and older. 

According to Seniors Matter, the most common reason that older adults seek chiropractic care is for pain in the muscles and bones, with back pain being the most common complaint. However, “many patients now see chiropractors for help with their ongoing health, whether as a treatment solution, complementary treatment, or for prevention of problems.”

Chiropractic doctors can offer treatments designed to help the body function at its highest level. As Pro-Holistic Care explains: 

“As chiropractors, we identify and eliminate areas of nerve interference and irritation in the spine caused by misalignments. Eliminating this interference can cause pain relief and improves overall functioning of the entire body, including better immune function, digestion, better sleep and less stress.”

In addition, Dr. Bouvin and her partner, Dr. Edgardo Vargas, can offer guidance on other ways for seniors to manage pain and improve overall health, including offering nutritional advice and guidance, recommending therapeutic exercises, and providing advice on physical activity and movement. 

Getting Support Around the House

When an older adult is dealing with pain on a consistent basis, it can be much harder for them to live a full and independent life. Fortunately, a professional senior companion can help provide your aging loved one with the personalized non-medical support they need to thrive in the comfort and safety of their own home. 

Whether full-time or part-time, home care is a flexible, affordable option, and can help provide a number of services designed to help seniors live a more active and enriched lifestyle — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

At Companions for Seniors, our trained and bonded caregivers can assist seniors with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as walking, standing, bathing, grooming, dress or going to the restroom. A companion can also provide driving services for doctor’s appointments and social events; assistance with laundry, cooking, cleaning, and other household chores; medication and exercise reminders; and some much-needed friendly companionship. 

It’s hard to overstate the power that having some additional companionship can mean for older adults. Studies have repeatedly shown that seniors who remain socially active and engaged experience better overall health, better nutrition, improved mobility, increased longevity, and lower rates of depression and anxiety. 

Ready to Reach Out for Help?

Have any more questions about helping the senior in your life manage pain — and its ripple effects on every other aspect of their daily life? We’d be happy to keep the conversation going. 

You can learn more about Dr. Rae Bouvin and Pro-Holistic Care and reach out with questions via the clinic’s official site, available here. 

At Companions for Seniors, we’re here to be your resource for all things home care in the Chicagoland area. Whether you’re looking for help, guidance, or simply a friendly and sympathetic listener, don’t hesitate to get in touch today by filling out our contact form here, or giving us a call at 866-910-9020.

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors maintain a higher quality of life by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort and safety of home. Our aim is to help seniors live independently, connect them with their community, and nurture meaningful relationships.