Coping With Chronic Pain As We Age

As Chronic Illness patients get older, do they have an increase in pain levels? This question is important and the answers aren’t easy to find. But, whether or not the elderly feel pain more, less, or the same as younger patients, they still need ways to cope.


What Research Tells Us

Studies have shown a variety of results and more research studies definitely need to focus on this problem.

The National Institutes of Health have provided this information in a study:

“Importantly, the prevalence of many common pain problems in humans tend to peak in mid-life and the majority of patients referred to pain clinics are between 40–60 years of age

A number of pain conditions emerge from those encountered with advancing age, including those associated with: (a) arthritis; (b) nerve injury; (c) visceral structures; (d) post-operative procedures; (e) stroke; and (f) musculoskeletal conditions. In many instances more than one of these conditions exist making it even more challenging to create a pre-clinical model reflecting the complexity of the human condition.


In 2003 researchers at the National Aging Research Institute in Australia published an analysis of more than 50 studies that examined age differences in sensitivity to induced pain. They found definite evidence of an increase in pain threshold with advancing age.

Older people may expect to feel pain but they shouldn’t . They should seek treatment. Doctors usually start with Acetaminophen. The next pain killer is NSAIDs, but they shouldn’t be used by many older people with these disorders: Kidney Disease, Heart Failure, or a history of stomach ulcers.”

 The American Geriatric Society recommends these treatments for moderate to severe pain: Opioids, muscle relaxers, and anti-depressants. Because older peoples body systems often don’t work well with these types of drugs, monitoring is necessary.

It’s harder to treat chronic pain in the elderly if they have cognitive impairment or other serious medical conditions. But, just as you would treat younger pain patients, the elderly should have a thorough health examination to find any underlying causes for the pain.

Multiple studies have shown that chronic pain in the elderly is under-treated. It can be difficult to assess the pain level if the patient has Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson Disease, or if they’ve had a stroke. Sometimes, practitioners utilize the Faces Scale or a Pain Thermometer where a patient can point to the level of pain that they feel.

It can be a problem if patients act out with inappropriate behavior and are given psychotropic medications, when they really need to be given pain medications instead. Consultant: Volume 52 – Issue 5 – May 2012


What Patients Need

The bottom line is that pain medication treatment is very complex, because of the many different medicines the elderly may already be taking. Adding pain medicine can change the ability of other prescriptions to work. Sometimes the change will be that the other medicines will have an increase in the risk of toxicity or reduce the efficacy. Patients should always take all their medications with them to every appointment.

Patients with chronic pain are much better off if they have a support system. A person who lives alone will have a harder time physically and emotionally. If a chronic pain patient lives alone there is a danger of what might happen during an emergency.

Of course, every person’s situation is different. The huge boomer population will have a very large variety of health and fitness abilities. Each person with chronic pain will need a unique plan to address their health and pain.

When patients are in pain they will have trouble with sleeping, their moods, and how much activity they will be able to participate in. The cycle of inactivity can actually make pain worse. It’s important for them to move: water therapy and chair exercise classes can be helpful.

Elderly pain patients should work closely with their general physician so that their medications can be closely monitored. The body processes drugs differently with aging. There may be less drug absorption.

Biofeedback can be a helpful coping mechanism for chronic pain patients. This can provide relaxation for patients who still have their memory. Another important way to cope is by having friends. Social time is important. Having a few friends can benefit the emotions and give them someone to share their health concerns.


Many elderly pain patients also use the following coping options:

  • Prayer or Meditation
  • Doing something to change attention (watching funny movie)
  • Relaxation
  • Rehabilitation with Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, etc.
  • Nerve blocks
  • Hot or Cold
  • Acupuncture
  • Friends or Support Groups

The main purpose of pain management is to help the elderly patient with chronic pain live a normal life. No matter how old a person is, they want to have a good life. Caregivers should look at the pros and cons of treatments. But, they also need to help patients with the small details that can bring a satisfying life as they cope with chronic pain.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. All information is my opinion and is not meant to be medical advice. If you have a medical concern, please consult your personal physician.

@2020, copyright Lisa Ehrman

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