Managing Chronic Pain in Seniors
Having to manage constant and sometimes crippling pain can lead seniors to withdraw from activities and relationships, and to stop taking part in aspects of their lives that are fulfilling and enjoyable. In many cases, seniors just accept pain as a part of growing older and may not seek out support and treatment. Caregivers and loved ones should remain attentive to changes in behavior so they can encourage seniors to take good care of their health and integrate effective treatment strategies. This can help implement physical and mental health techniques to deal with the challenges and effects that accompany chronic pain.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic Pain, as opposed to acute pain, is pain that lasts for a prolonged period of time. This type of stubborn pain is often rooted in a larger chronic condition in the body, but there are some circumstances in which no specific cause of pain can be identified. In these cases, the chronic pain is described as an illness in itself.
Chronic pain can be overpowering and can feel as though it is taking over seniors’ lives, but there are strategies and behaviours that can be integrated to help offer some relief from pain and to help stop the existing patterns of discomfort.
Signs of Chronic Pain
Many seniors accept pain as a part of the aging process, and might just try to push through it rather than seeking help. However, it is recommended that seniors talk to a healthcare professional if they are experiencing chronic pain to work towards identifying underlying causes and addressing the issues before things worsen. The following are some signs and symptoms that caregivers and loved ones can look out for which may indicate the existence of chronic pain:
- Clenching fists
- Grimacing when moving
- Groaning, moaning, or grunting accompanying simple movements
- Reduction in appetite
- Rigid movements and inflexibility
- Trouble sleeping
- Withdrawal from activities because movement is uncomfortable
Each person reacts in a different way to pain, so the list above is by no means exhaustive or complete. There are many behavioural or emotional changes that can suggest that seniors are dealing with pain, so keep an eye out for any visible or identifiable changes, start a conversation, and seek support.
Chronic Pain and Mental Health
Seek support and assistance to manage chronic pain is essential for mental and physical health. Studies have shown that there is an important link between pain and depression due to the associated negative feelings and emotions. Depression itself has also been shown to heighten the experience of pain, creating a circle in which chronic pain and depression continue to reinforce one another. For this reason, among others, it is crucial that seniors find support to manage pain and keep their bodies and minds as healthy as possible.
Managing Chronic Pain
The realities of chronic pain make it so that the discomfort and debilitating impacts will not just naturally go away with time. To really deal with chronic pain, and learn to live a comfortable and happy life despite it, seniors must make some purposeful decisions and integrate tools and strategies. The following are some steps seniors can take to address chronic pain:
- Avoid Detachment: Feelings of isolation fuel depression and negative states of mental health, so it is important that seniors stay connected and engaged and try not to pull away from social engagements because of their pain.
- Find Distractions: It isn’t always possible to completely eradicate pain, so it can be helpful to find healthy distractions that take the mind away from focusing on pain and direct attention towards something enjoyable. Whether it be a hobby, time spent in the company of others, or experiences that soothe the 5 senses, distractions can help create moments of calm and relief.
- Low-Impact Exercise: Physical inactivity can often increase both pain and depression, so it is important not to avoid movement because of pain. Gentle exercise can help relieve pain and keep the body mobile, so seniors should try to implement comfortable and manageable movement into daily routines.
- See A Doctor: Seeing a doctor is a recommended first step to take in the pursuit of learning to manage chronic pain. A healthcare professional can help in the process of determining the source of pain and can suggest appropriate strategies, techniques, medications, and treatments to alleviate pain and discomfort.
- Seek Support: Many seniors find it helpful to talk to other people who share their experience with chronic pain. There are groups and other forms of social support available that can help to relieve feelings of isolation and help seniors realize they aren’t alone in their struggles with chronic pain.
- Try Different Approaches: Everyone’s experience of chronic pain is different, so there might be a period of trial and error involved in exploring treatment options and strategies. Some people take part in various therapies, others use medications, some undergo surgery, and many use a combination that they find effective. Try not to get discouraged while working through and determining the best course of action.
- Try Meditation: The deep breathing and grounding exercises that come along with meditation can be valuable to some seniors learning to live with chronic pain. The idea of taking each moment as it comes that exists as part of mindful meditation can help seniors find calm and attend to the other thoughts and feelings they are having beyond their pain.
The reality of chronic pain is that it is often extremely difficult to manage every day, but there are ways to keep on living a happy and fulfilling life in spite of it. Planning to meet with a healthcare professional in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, talking through treatment options, and making use of support networks can all help seniors keep on living positive, happy, and enriching lives.