Study Calls For Improved Pain Treatment Among Seniors

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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A new study from The University of Nottingham highlights the need to improve pain treatment among seniors. Senior citizens who live in pain consider the experience "normal", yet pain can lead to depression and impacts quality of life in our senior years.

The study, Pain in older people: reflections and experiences from an older person's perspective, is a wake-up call to clinicians, highlighting the experiences and perceptions of living in pain by conducting interviews with seniors. The interviews provide insight into how elders cope with pain, individual experiences, and need for improvements in the way healthcare providers treat chronic pain conditions, which should not be viewed as a normal part of becoming a senior citizen.

The result of the interviews, funded by Help the Aged, and the British Pain Society, revealed that five million people over the age of 65 are in some degree of pain and discomfort in the United Kingdom. The findings have inspired policy makers to ask important questions about how to develop specialist pain services, and funding for educational programs to raise awareness about chronic pain conditions associated with aging. Training health care providers toward awareness and treatment, an area of caring for senior citizens that seems to be neglected.

Lead study author, Dr Nick Allcock, Associate Professor in the University's School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy and Co-Director of the Nottingham Centre for Evidence Based Nursing and Midwifery says, "Pain in older people is highly prevalent and widely accepted as something to be expected and regarded as 'normal' in later life. Hence, suffering associated with persistent pain in older people often occurs without the appropriate assessment and treatment. Ageist and discriminatory attitudes towards older people in pain must be challenged and ended. Pain in older people needs to be seen as a priority. It is not a normal part of ageing. Much more can and must be done to improve help and support."

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Lord Darzi of Denham, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health, upon being questioned about the study said, "It is imperative to understand that no one, irrespective of age, should tolerate pain. I appreciate that awareness in this area is extremely important, because we are living in a century when all of us are getting older and, at the same time, there is a suggestion that pain is a symptom of ageing, which it is not."

Here is one perspective from the interviews conducted, from Janet Allcock, 73, a retired healthcare worker:

" I feel reluctant to keep going and pestering my doctor about my pain because when you get to my age, and especially if you're a woman, you feel he's going to think I'm being neurotic. And because pain can't be seen, it's probably not easy for him to understand how much pain I'm actually in."

The report should raise awareness about the effects of chronic pain associated with aging. Healthcare providers are encouraged by Lord Darzi to give "higher regard to chronic pain". Family members should advocate for seniors who feels they must live with chronic pain. Through public awareness and patient advocacy, positive changes can be made to improve the quality of lives of our senior population, none of whom should live with chronic pain.

See the full report here.

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