Chronic Pain in Aging Adults: Loving and Living through Pain

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Woman rubs back as she deals with chronic pain in aging adults

Chronic Pain in Aging Adults

Many of us are used to aches and pains here and there in life. Whether from an old sports injury or a clumsy day, rarely is our body without some ailment. However, chronic pain is an experience entirely different. And, sadly, it is an experience all too common for many of our loved ones. 

On average, over 50% of aging adults experience some form of chronic pain. Chronic pain in aging adults is a unique need that many of our loved ones may have. Let’s unpack what chronic pain is, why our loved ones struggle with it, and some innovative ways to help!

man rubs hand as he struggles with chronic pain in aging adults

What is chronic pain? And what causes it in our parents?

The term “chronic pain” describes a wide medical reality of many of our loved ones’ experiences. While each medical professional independently can assess what makes something “chronic,” usually it is a longstanding pain that continues to stick around for over 12 weeks. After about three months without relief, we generally consider an ache or pain to be “chronic.”

Sadly, many of our aging loved ones live their days with chronic pain. Chronic pain in aging adults is so common for a variety of reasons. And it can be helpful for us to explore some of these reasons to help best understand our loved ones’ lived experiences. 

Medical Changes

As our loved ones age, they are often diagnosed with a new medical condition. Whatever the diagnosis, this can be shocking to us as we quickly attempt to learn all about this new condition and treatment options. 

And while we always work to provide the best medical care for our parents, chronic pain sometimes is a side-effect of many diseases common in aging adults. Cancer treatment, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, and more can be a root cause for chronic pain, even with the best treatment.

Increased Pain Sensitivity

Additionally, sometimes our loved ones experience chronic pain more because increased pain sensitivity is common as we age. Different changes in the brain and its chemistry can mean we feel pain more strongly as we age. So, something that might have been barely noticeable earlier in life (like an old football injury) may increase chronic pain in aging adults.

Senior Couple walks to avoid chronic pain in aging adults

What are the effects of chronic pain on aging adults?

Of course, any longtime discomfort or pain is problematic, especially when our loved one is struggling through it. Chronic pain presents a unique challenge for our aging parents, however. As our loved ones age, we often focus on helping keep them active, mobile, and sharp. And this is a great decision! I, too, recommend daily routines that support mobile and healthy aging journeys.

However, chronic pain can make these routines even more difficult. It can take its toll on a loved one physically, mentally, and emotionally. For some, chronic pain can be a roadblock as they try to keep their body moving. And while there is no one perfect solution to ridding our loved ones of chronic pain, there are a variety of options worth exploring!

Older man lifts weights to avoid chronic pain in aging adults

How can I help my loved one manage chronic pain?

As a first step, we always want to connect our loved ones with their medical professionals. If a loved one already has a specialty doctor in the pain area, consult with them directly. Or, if a loved one needs a referral, start with a visit to their general practitioner. 

The most traditional ways of managing chronic pain are prescription pain medications, over-the-counter medicines (like NSAIDs), topical creams, etc. Through trial and time,  many of our loved ones find relief through this mixture of pharmaceutical options. A loved one’s doctor will help direct this trial-and-error process and manage any changes that need to occur.

However, there are non-drug options and ideas for treating chronic pain that our loved ones might also want to consider!

Senior couple uses tai-chi to manage chronic pain in aging adults

What are some non-drug options for pain management?

Besides considering pharmaceutical options, we also might want to consider non-drug-related treatment options for chronic pain in aging adults. A loved one’s medical team should also be able to consult on any of these options as well!

Stress and Relaxation

When we think of aches and pain, sometimes it’s easy to forget how much the brain is connected to the body! Stress and anxiety can directly impact how our physical body feels. Stress causes our muscles to tighten, our hormones to change and can worsen any chronic pain.

When we support our loved ones to destress and relax, we actually might be helping them lead a more pain-free life. Below are some ways we can encourage our loved ones to relax their mind and body:

  • Guided breathing exercises; breathwork is common in pain management (like women in labor, for instance)
  • Meditation to help learn breathing techniques and muscular relaxation
  • Getting a pet or pet therapy; sometimes even stroking a loved animal can relax our bodies and muscles and decrease pain
  • Consulting with a mental health professional to discuss any struggles a loved one is experiencing. Various studies and treatments (like Emotional Awareness and Expression Therapy) show a connection between phycological therapeutic treatment and decreased chronic pain.

Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, if we help our loved ones adopt lifestyle changes, we may see a decrease in chronic pain. Safe movement is key for an aging adult. And the release of endorphins can help combat pain and lessen its effects. 

However, we want to focus on movements and lifestyle changes that suit our loved ones and their comfort! Below are a few lifestyle changes that could help with chronic pain in aging adults:

  • Tai Chi is a helpful low-impact way of movement that can help with mindfulness and breathwork and keep a loved one exercising.
  • Water activities, like water aerobics, can be a great way to exercise without all the impact on joints and muscles.
  • Healthy eating and hydration can be helpful in strengthen a loved one’s body so that the effects of pain are less. Be sure to consult medical professionals before any big changes to a loved one’s diet or hydration.

Body treatments for Pain Relief

Finally, a few other treatment options for chronic pain in aging adults do not require (or can occur alongside) medication.

  • Acupuncture can be a treatment to alleviate chronic pain in aging adults. It has been more popularly used by patients with chronic pain related to chemotherapy or cancer treatments.
  • Physical therapy could be a good option for a loved one who has a specific injury or pain area and would benefit from directed safe movement and treatment. This treatment is common for loved ones who have specific chronic pains to address, like recovery from a surgery or an old injury flaring up.
  • Massages can seem luxurious to many of us, but they can actually reduce the effects of chronic pain by relaxing the body’s muscles and helping relax the mind.
Elderly couple sits happily together

Living and loving beyond pain

At Beverly’s Daughter, I know that each of our loved ones has their own unique aging journey. And I acknowledge that this journey may involve physical, emotional, and mental changes for both our loved ones and ourselves. And chronic pain in aging adults can be a uniquely stressful experience for a loved one. 

As caregivers, we always want to create the most comfortable and safe environment for our loved ones. If you or your loved one is struggling with chronic pain and need support, please connect with me, and let’s start a conversation.

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Exploring Pain Solutions

As a loved one struggles with chronic pain, it can feel discouraging for the whole family. However, there are a variety of ways to treat chronic pain both through medications and through other tactics. If your loved one is struggling with pain, look into activities and physical treatments that could benefit their specific condition. Medication could help but so could a range of other activities as well. 

Chronic Pain requireS Big Support

Chronic pain may slow our loved ones down, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options for their continued success. Through careful lifestyle changes, medical options, and other activities, our loved one may indeed be able to quiet some of their pain. Please connect with us at Beverly’s Daughter for more questions or support. 

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