Are you caring for a senior who lives with pain?

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Tips for caregivers

By Lisa Davis

Many older adults live with pain, which can be acute (intense but short-lived) or chronic (lasting six weeks or more). Caregivers helping seniors manage pain can do a number of things to help them live fully despite their condition.

First, it’s important to understand the pain’s cause. According to Comfort Keepers, a provider of in-home senior care, older adults are more vulnerable to chronic pain for a number of reasons, including greater joint and muscle wear and tear; the presence of medical conditions such as arthritis; and a general decrease in activity. Seniors are also more at risk for accidents that can lead to chronic pain, like a fall that results in a broken hip.

Common types of pain seniors tend to have include:

  • Arthritis/joint pain
  • Peripheral neuropathy, often associated with diabetes
  • Central pain syndrome, often associated with stroke
  • Repetitive strain injury, such as carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Lingering pain from injuries, ranging from a rotator-cuff tear to a hip fracture
  • Cancer pain
  • Depression-associated pain such as headache or stomachache.

One of the challenges in caring for seniors in pain is being aware that they hurt. Older adults are often less likely to be forthcoming when speaking with a caregiver or doctor to avoid potential illness or hospitalization, or because they don’t want to appear vulnerable or dependent.

Seniors might also believe that pain just comes with age, so they downplay that hip or knee discomfort. And compromised communication skills associated with stroke or dementia may make it difficult or impossible for some to speak about their pain. When seniors don’t or can’t talk about it, the result can be depression or anxiety.

Seniors can also have adverse reactions to pain remedies, which means caregivers need to monitor medications even more closely. Caregivers should also be aware of seniors other regular medications, including for heart disease, lung disorders, diabetes, or blood pressure, and any reaction with a pain med.

Other helpful tips for caring for a senior:

  • Urge them to be honest with doctors about their pain.
  • Encourage the use of assistance devices such as a walker or cane, which aid in balance and widen the base of support. Using a shower chair can also help alleviate hip or back strain, as well as help avoid accidents.
  • Promote activity. Regular physical activity helps in all kinds of ways, including with digestion, circulation, and muscle fitness. A class like water aerobics or going walking with a friend can be good for seniors. Check into activities at a local senior center. Exercise also provides opportunities for social interaction, which is good for older adults so they don’t feel isolated. For exercise tips, read Stay in the Game.
  • Assist with finding support. Online forums can provide insight into what others are doing to manage their pain and to get referrals for specialists and other services. For ideas on online pain forums, read Social Networks Ease Pain.
  • Don’t forget about you. Being a caregiver can be exhausting. Be sure to take time to recharge physically, emotionally, and mentally. For ideas on how to care for yourself when you care for others, read Caregiving Conversation Starters.
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Lisa Davis is the former editor-in-chief of Pain Resource’s print publication and also a contributor to several award-winning health, lifestyle and travel publications, including USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, About.com and more. She is also a certified Pilates instructor teaching at health clubs in Chicago, where she lives.

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