Jane Brody, the “Personal Health” columnist for the New York Times seems to always get it right, when writing about pain and health issues. Recently, she shared with her readers that she and her friends, all well into their Medicare years, often joke that “If nothing hurts, you must be dead.” In truth, she says, pain is not a normal part of aging, and should not be ignored.
“The good news is that older people cope better with pain, but the bad news is that they cope by decreasing function and accepting pain as a consequence of aging. Unfortunately, this may lead to a vicious cycle of declining functional status, worsening overall health, and neglect of remedial and treatable conditions, and ultimately resulting in needless suffering,” says Dr. Bruce A. Ferrell, a UCLA geriatrician, and his co-authors in Primary Issues, a website for primary care doctors.
Inadequately, or untreated pain can be disabling, and can quicken the death of an older adult by impeding with the ability to exercise, maintain social contacts or eat properly. Continuous pain may lead to sleep problems, depression, immobility and isolation, all which can increase the need for expensive medical care.
Take 75 year old Dale Bell for example. Just before the holidays his shoulder and hip began to hurt. “I took ibuprofen, got a massage and eased off on my workout in the gym,” he said. When that didn’t help, he saw a doctor who suggested physical therapy. Before he started though, the pain intensified, spreading from his shoulders to his knees. “It was almost impossible to get out of bed and dressed in the morning,” he said. Given a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatic, he was prescribed a steroid, a muscle relaxant, and physical therapy.
Bell is now back in the gym, slowly increasing the intensity of his workouts. He has been able to reduce the amount of medication, and has gained the upper hand on his condition.
One barrier to proper care for the elderly is the mistaken belief that pain is inevitable. Others have a reluctance to bother the doctor or be viewed as a complainer.
And, while drugs often help, there are other effective ways to treat pain. Alternative beneficial treatments can be strength training, yoga, acupuncture, water aerobics, self-hypnosis, alternating applications of cold and heat, and says Brody, listening to music and playing with a pet or children….. San Francisco Chronicle 3/6/14