The National Institutes of Health calls it a silent epidemic. Chronic pain in older adults, defined as pain that persists for more than three months, is one of the “most common and consequential diseases” that affect senior health and wellness here in the US and globally, affecting 25% to 85% of older adults.
Managing pain and finding ways to help alleviate it is essential for seniors to maintain maximum independence and enjoy the best possible quality of life.
Chronic pain can result from complications following surgery, an injury that did not heal properly, age-related health conditions such as arthritis and cancer, or an undiagnosed health problem. It can become a constant distraction, it can limit your ability to engage in activities you love, or it can be so severe that it makes daily living tasks, even simple conversation, difficult.
Residents of senior living communities have an advantage, a team of professional caregivers and a wealth of onsite programs that can help. National Health Services Director Susan F., RN, at The Goodman Group, tells us that seniors living on their own can adopt many of these same practices to help ease their chronic pain.
Here’s how we approach chronic pain management in senior living communities managed by The Goodman Group.
The Pain Spectrum: How Bad Is It?
Pain affects each person differently, but when it becomes chronic it can be life-altering. It may become distressing, something you just can’t ignore. More intense pain that is strong, deep and piercing can interfere with your ability to think.At The Goodman Group managed senior living communities, team members work with each resident using a 9-point scale that ranges from very mild to unbearable that helps them describe and rate their pain, the level, how long it lasts, and how it affects them.
Relieving the Pain
With this information, we can then provide personalized support and introduce lifestyle techniques to ease their type of pain. Susan and her team may recommend:
- Comfort items – a warm compress or ice pack, ear plugs or personal headphones, aromatherapy.
- Comfort actions – re-positioning, gentle stretching or walking, massage, a warm bath or shower.
- Relaxation options – comfort items that restrict sound or light can help here, too, as can a stress ball, back massager, quiet time (or a sound machine), mindfulness activities and visiting with a spiritual leader or confidant.
- Keeping boredom at bay – focus on something else via reading, listening to music, playing with a deck of cards or puzzle book, or watching a show. Engage in activities such as crafts, hand-held games, outdoor outings, singing or playing music. Consider doing group activities for the added social benefits and mental stimulation.
Medications are a common resource for managing chronic pain. However, managing medications can be confusing, especially for seniors who may take several different types. Medically trained team members at a senior living community can be a big help here. We encourage ongoing, honest communication with residents because that allows team members to collaborate more closely with their primary care provider to manage medications, assess effectiveness, and monitor possible side effects.
The goal is the individual’s comfort, so don’t wait till the pain is overwhelming, Susan advises. Request medication before the pain returns, and let the caregiver know if you don’t feel relief within an hour.
Community-Wide Services and Amenities Further Support Healthy Aging
The Goodman Group’s managed living communities offer a broad range of activities and other opportunities that can help residents with chronic pain directly and indirectly. Perhaps one of the biggest indirect benefits is the opportunity to engage socially with friends and neighbors who understand first-hand the challenges of getting older, including chronic pain.
Exercise and fitness programs
Exercise supports healthy aging by strengthening bones and muscles, improving balance and mobility. Gentle actions such as stretching can help reduce pain, too. Most communities managed by The Goodman Group provide onsite access to fitness and exercise equipment, walking programs, etc. Many also offer offsite excursions so residents can enjoy outdoor/nature experiences that are relaxing, uplifting and a welcome distraction for those dealing with chronic pain.
One of the greatest benefits of living in a community managed by The Goodman Group is the wealth of rewarding opportunities to engage one’s mind, body, and spirit, either on your own or in fellowship with others. Along with physical fitness, these programs provide recreational, educational and social distractions that can lead to a greater sense of well-being and fulfillment and a more positive outlook despite the chronic pain. This holistic lifestyle approach to healthy aging may benefit all residents, but it can have special emotional and psychological value for those experiencing chronic pain.