Pain Myths

My granddad has a lot of pain from his arthritis but won’t take anything, because he says all seniors have pain and he’ll live with it.  Do they really all have pain?  What can be done to help them live more comfortably?

A recent article in the Journal of Family Practice reviewed this issue about pain in seniors and discussed several myths related to it.

One myth is that pain is a natural part of aging.  Although many seniors believe that they should expect to have pain, studies have found that after age 65 many chronic pain disorders actually occur less frequently:  less back, abdominal, neck, and face pain compared with younger people.

Myth #2:  the severity of pain will increase as we get older.  Investigations have shown this not to be true.  The intensity of pain is not only dependent on the individual and their situation, but those who keep more active, have good social/family support, and are mentally healthy, have less pain, despite being older.

Myth #3:  seniors are more likely to become addicted to prescription narcotics, and that these drugs are more harmful.  This results in many seniors refusing the drugs despite constant suffering.  In reality, compared to younger people, seniors are less likely to become addicted; only 3% showed any behaviors associated with abuse and most discontinue narcotics after a few refills as their pain becomes less bothersome.

Everyone becomes physiologically dependent on a drug after taking it several times a day for several weeks, but that doesn’t mean they are addicted.  Addiction occurs when the drug produces a “mental buzz” (regardless of how much pain it relieves) that drives them to keep taking it despite problems arising from it.

So your granddad might begin by taking acetaminophen regularly, and if that’s not enough, then, with guidance from his doctor, consider an antidepressant—because chronic pain also causes depression and treating the depression may help the pain—before starting a narcotic.