Question: What Special Considerations Should Be Made When Treating Pain In The Elderly?
Answer: We've got an increasing aging and diverse society. As the baby boomers age, we're going to see a lot more pain complaints and they're not going to want to live with this.
I'm reminded of a conference that I presented to a bunch of elders, and there were probably about 50 of them in the room and I asked them, "How many of you actually have chronic pain." And all of them raised their hands except for three.
That tells us that we actually may be underestimating the amount of pain that's in the elderly population. We typically think about it as physicians about one in two, one in three elders living with pain.
What we know is that the elders may use different words for pain, such as "it hurts" or "it aches" or "it's just my arthritis." So we need to open up new ways of communicating about pain; listening to the patient, using their words and helping them to get to a place where they're comfortable talking about pain using whatever words they're comfortable using. And the physician has to be willing to sort of listen in a different manner.
From there, there are many things that pain medicine physicians can do to take care of patients with pain. And elderly people are not unlike younger people, or minority people or women. We need to take into account the whole patient.
When we think of whole patients, elderly people may actually have more comorbidities. More comorbidities mean, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer. And so we may need to take into account those types of problems and the medications that a person is taking for those as we think about their pain mediation regimen.
So, with that being said, we need to make certain that elderly people have their pain complaints heard, and that we make certain that we try to provide them the best quality pain care possible so that we can improve their quality of life.