Flexible Rent Opportunity. Brand New 10,000 sq ft Facility in Downtown Los Angeles - Learn more >>

Chronic Pain in the Aging Population: Understanding and Managing the Unique Challenges

chronic pain in the aging

Share This Post

The global population is aging at an unprecedented rate. In the US, the number of Americans 65 and older is predicted to increase by 47% by 2050. With advancing age comes new and exacerbated health problems, including chronic pain. Chronic pain diminishes the quality of life and presents unique challenges in the aging population due to physiological changes, comorbidities, and social factors. Understanding the nature of chronic pain in older adults is crucial to managing these unique challenges.

Understanding Chronic Pain in Older Adults

As the body ages, it undergoes several physiological changes that can impact one’s pain experience. One notable change is the gradual decline in the density of sensory receptors, leading to alterations in pain perception. This decline, in addition to changes to the age-related nervous system, can lead to increased pain for those grappling with chronic pain.

Additionally, older adults face increased risks of developing chronic pain conditions. Common chronic pain conditions include arthritis, neuropathic pain, back pain, and fibromyalgia. Adults over 65 can also be at risk for developing conditions like osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and degenerative disc disease, as advanced age leads to structural changes in joints and tissues. This age-related degradation has led to over 30% of the aging population experiencing chronic pain.

Unique Challenges Faced by Older Adults with Chronic Pain

Due to the physical changes in their bodies, older adults face unique challenges when it comes to chronic pain and its management. One of the most common challenges for older adults with chronic pain is the diversity of conditions they may be dealing with. Studies show that nearly 79% of older adults (age 65 and up) face multiple chronic conditions at once. These comorbid conditions not only complicate the management of chronic pain but also increase the risk of adverse drug interactions and treatment-related complications. The diversity of these conditions often leads to polypharmacy, the concurrent use of multiple medications. Without a cohesive, collaborative medical team, older adults may be at risk for medication errors, drug-drug interactions, and increased susceptibility to adverse effects, potentially exacerbating pain and other chronic conditions.

Chronic pain almost always leads to some level of functional limitation, and this is particularly apparent among older adults. Many chronic pain conditions can lead to reduced mobility and balance beyond the loss that is typical with aging, leaving older adults susceptible to falls, trips, and other injuries. 

In addition to a physical decline, individuals over 65 may face a cognitive decline as well, presenting numerous challenges in the assessment and management of chronic pain. Individuals with cognitive issues, such as dementia and mild cognitive impairment, may have difficulty accurately describing their pain symptoms, leading to underreporting or misinterpretation of pain severity. These deficits can also inhibit their ability to adhere to treatment plans on their own, potentially compromising the effectiveness of pain management strategies. 

Recognizing and understanding these challenges is crucial for providing effective pain management to older adults, ensuring that their challenges are addressed through a holistic pain management plan.

Strategies for Optimizing Pain Management in Older Adults

There are several strategies healthcare providers can use to optimize pain management in older adults.

Non-Pharmacological Interventions

As multiple comorbidities are a common challenge faced by older adults, non-pharmacological interventions play a central role in optimizing pain management and offering safe and effective alternatives to pharmacological options. These strategies serve to mitigate the risks associated with polypharmacy. Interventions like physical therapy, occupational therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can be effective for older adults with a range of chronic pain conditions.

Physical therapists can tailor exercise programs to the needs of older adults, improving their strength and flexibility to reduce pain and improve function. Occupational therapists focus on teaching adaptive techniques and assistive devices to promote independence in activities of daily living and alleviate pain-related limitations. Other alternative therapies, like acupuncture and massage therapy, can relieve pain and improve the overall well-being of older adults.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness Techniques

Mental health is an important yet often overlooked factor in an older adult’s chronic pain experience. The aging population is more likely to experience feelings of social isolation, potentially exacerbating their pain experience. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based techniques can be effective strategies for managing the psychological effects of chronic pain in older adults. These strategies address maladaptive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors associated with pain, enhancing coping skills and behavioral patterns. 

Additionally, mindfulness techniques, like meditation, yoga, and tai chi, cultivate Mindfulness present-moment awareness and acceptance of pain, reducing the stress associated with chronic pain and improving pain management. These techniques help older adults take an active role in managing their pain and coping with its impact on daily life.

The unique challenges faced by older adults when it comes to chronic pain necessitate a unique approach to pain management. With a comprehensive, holistic pain management plan, older adults can experience reduced pain, improved function, and a greater quality of life.

We Can Help!

Treating chronic pain in older adults requires a holistic, collaborative approach to pain management and well-being. A group dedicated to restoring patients’ function and quality of life is crucial. At Serenity Healthcare Partners, our functional restoration team is just that: dedicated to providing chronic pain solutions tailored to your unique needs. Reach out today for more about our holistic approach to chronic pain relief!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore

would you like information on pain Management?

Reach out and Learn More.