Pain and suffering are often ignored in the elderly. Pain is one of the most common complaints that remains poorly treated in the elderly community. There are numerous causes for this. Many of our elderly were brought up not to coddle themselves. They have an expectation that life can be painful and that they must be tough and not complain.
As people age, changes occur in the body and how it works. Elderly people may have more health problems, but this does not mean that pain is a normal part of aging. The purpose of pain is to alert us that something may be wrong.
Conditions such as arthritis, migraines, back injuries, fracture or cancer can cause pain. It can also be caused by physical injuries, such as with surgery, accidents or falls. Occasionally, fractures can exist even when the patient experienced no fall or accident.
An elderly person may not be able to perform necessary tasks, such as preparing their own meals and managing medication. In an effort to be independent, they may rely only on themselves to manage these activities of daily living. If they become ill or are in pain, they may actually walk to find someone to help them rather than to use a lifeline alert system or even their own telephone. Even in the midst of moderate chest pains, they may not consider that this is an emergency worthy of dialing “911″.
Unless doctors are informed about the nature and frequency of pain, they are unable to treat it. Many elderly patients either don’t think to tell the doctor about the pain they experience or they withhold this information in an effort to be strong.
Some of the elderly who suffer from early alzheimer’s, tell the doctor how they are feeling at that moment, and have actually forgotten for the moment the pain they have experienced for the last few months. Sometimes the elderly fail to mention their pain because they fear that reporting the pain may lead to painful diagnostic procedures or hospitalization. Some attempt to be “good” by not complaining about the pain. In other cases, the patient may believe that there is nothing that can be done for the pain, so they don’t mention it.
Medications most commonly prescribed for pain are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, often called NSAIDs, non-narcotic analgesics and narcotic analgesics. Treatment for pain is a joint decision of the doctor in consultation with the patient and their advocate.
External advocates, such as family members, are often necessary to make the pain visible to medical professionals and to request treatment. Caregivers who are aware of the pain must often take it upon themselves to ask to be invited to come along on the doctor appointments. Many times, the best person to make themselves heard in a doctor’s office or hospital is a family member.
Illness and pain cause helplessness, physical and emotional dependence and the loss of social power. Needless suffering is the result.
The relief of pain and suffering, whenever possible, is a fundamental responsibility of health care professionals and patient advocates. The health care workers, medical professionals, and family members all share the responsibility for meeting the special needs of our elderly. All three groups share the responsibility of seeing that the pain is evaluated and treated.