Seniors Have Options for Managing Chronic Pain
It is one thing to manage pain when you're still young. But, what options do today's seniors having in controlling chronic pain caused by medical conditions like arthritis? According to recent research, traditional pain management using opioids may not be as effective as once thought. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended this year that doctors stop prescribing opioids like tramadol (Ultram), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and oxycodone (Oxycontin) for chronic pain management outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care.
What is Chronic Pain?
Generally speaking, chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for more than 3 months or past the time of normal tissue healing following an underlying disease or medical condition, injury, medical treatment, or unknown cause. Although the prevalence of chronic pain varies, it is clear that the number of Americans suffering with chronic pain is substantial. In fact, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions in 2012 for opioid pain medications, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of painkillers.
This is not to say that doctors are to blame for America's current problem with opioid abuse. In fact, for most of the 20th century, doctors were taught to prescribe opioids for patients suffering from painful medical conditions. However, in the latter part of the 1900s, the pharmaceutical industry aggressively promoted results of what is now believed to be "biased research" that indicated opioid treatment was safe and had a very low risk of addiction. This may have led to millions of seniors being prescribed opioids as a daily treatment for chronic pain.
Drug-Free Options for Today's Senior
Whether a senior member of your family should give up opioids, is something that can only be determined by his or her physician. Listed below are a few drug-free options that you may want to discuss with your loved one:
- Exercise: Mild physical activity loosens stiff joints and signals the body to release natural pain relievers.
- Cognitive Therapy: Psychotherapy has proven effective in helping many patients better understand and manage chronic pain.
- Meditation: Yoga-like meditation has been proven effective in quieting pain intensity as method of day-to-day pain management.
- Acupuncture: One of the oldest forms of Eastern medicine, some chronic pain sufferers have reported noticeable relief following acupuncture treatments.
As part of your loved one's home healthcare team, it is important to understand that they did not set out to become addicted to the drug. They were simply seeking relief from pain that may never subside.
Risk of Addiction
It is estimated that 1 in 10 people become addicted to opioids. Although that may or may not seem high, there is a bigger problem with long-term use. Opioids work by turning off or slowing down some of the body's pain triggers. They also affect the region of the brain that boosts your sense of well-being. Intervention in either area can have a positive effect on reducing acute pain. However, recent research suggests that high doses for a long period can backfire by causing extreme sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia). Many users are surprised to discover that they have less pain after they stop using opioids.
Although the medical community has differing opinions on opioid use, there is a consensus that there is no easy solution to the problem of chronic pain management. As someone responsible for elderly at-home care, it is important to encourage proactive ways of managing daily pain. It is also equally as important to show great respect for someone who is living in pain. Remember, only their doctor is qualified to start, stop or change their medication.