What are the challenges of treating pain in older adults?

Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine
Unrecognized or undertreated pain in older adults can decrease physical functioning and socialization, as well as cause depression, insomnia and falls. This makes appropriate assessment and treatment of pain important, but treating pain in older adults is easier said than done. The use of pain-relieving drugs is often limited by patient comorbidities and the drug side effects. Opioids can cause sedation, which may affect one's balance, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) may increase cardiac or gastrointestinal risks.

While conditions such as dementia can impede an older adult's ability to seek and receive adequate care for pain, studies also suggest that older patients are less willing to vocalize pain symptoms. Common reasons include the belief that pain is part of aging and that increased pain indicates a worsening of the underlying disease. They also may believe that when doctors are paying attention to the treatment of pain they may be less attentive to the treatment of their disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.