Home Care Helps Seniors Manage Painful Conditions
Pain isn't "just a part of growing older"
Though physical pain isn't inevitable as we grow older, seniors are more likely to have arthritis, osteoporosis, fractures, angina, shingles or other conditions that cause pain.
Pain diminishes quality of life and independence. It even increases the risk of falls. And yet, while older adults are more likely to experience pain, they are the least likely to ask for or receive relief. Many believe they are "just getting older." Or, they hesitate to speak up because they "don't want to be a bother."
How can family help? If your loved one is experiencing pain and hasn't recently raised the subject with his healthcare provider, encourage him to request an evaluation of his current pain control regimen, and to discuss alternate solutions that might be more effective. Today's pain specialists have a wider array of treatment options than ever before.
Finding the right "prescription" for pain control is only the beginning. Following the doctor's instructions best ensures positive results, but a senior who is experiencing chronic pain may find it difficult to comply with the pain control strategy. Families can help by offering encouragement and helping with practical tasks. And when family can't be there, professional home care services can provide an extra measure of support.
Home care professionals have learned from years of experience that supporting pain management is a vital quality of life element for the seniors they serve. Home health aides support pain management in several proactive ways:
Medication management: The doctor may prescribe pain control drugs. Common drugs include:
- over-the-counter products such as aspirin and ibuprofen;
- opioid drugs such as morphine and codeine;
- muscle relaxants;
- steroids; and
- topical medications.
It is important to take these medications correctly, but this can be a challenge, especially if your loved one has multiple health conditions. A home health aide can remind your loved one to take medications on time and in the way they are supposed to be taken. The aide can also take your loved one to the pharmacy or pick up prescriptions, help with pill organizers and dispensers, and report any signs of side effects.
Promote compliance with physical treatments. Medications are not the only option for pain relief. Your loved one may benefit from physical therapy, which might include massage, heat and cold, biofeedback or electrical treatments such as a spinal cord stimulator or TENS device. Pain control specialists might also prescribe relaxation techniques, such as yoga, tai chi or breathing exercises. A home health aide can transport your loved one to appointments or classes. If home exercises are prescribed, the aide can provide encouragement and supervision.
Encourage physical activity. Staying active may well be the most important "medicine" for your loved one's health. Study after study confirms that physical activity improves arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease and other painful conditions. And exercise increases the production of endorphins, the body's own pain reliever. Families report that the presence of a professional caregiver gives their loved one the self-confidence to follow their individual exercise plan, and to be more active in general.
Decreasing depression and anxiety. Pain isn't "all in our head," but how we think about pain does make a difference. Depression, anxiety and loneliness magnify the perception of pain. Families understand this, and often worry about their loved one being home alone while they can't be there. An in-home caregiver can provide transportation to the senior center, to Bible study or to other social events your loved one enjoys. Seniors report that just having another person around the house is a mood brightener that "takes your mind off your aches and pains."
Dementia care support. Pain control is especially challenging when a loved one has Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. Sometimes pain underlies behavior changes such as wandering and aggressiveness. Yet your loved one may be unable to express that they are feeling pain. According to professional in-home caregivers, it's important to be aware of signals that indicate pain, such as slower movements, decreased function, wincing or irritability.
Untreated, pain can lead to a cycle of decline that makes it impossible for a senior to stay in his or her home or retirement community. Persistent pain that has an impact on physical function, psychological function or quality of life should be treated appropriately. In-home care can be an effective addition to the pain management team.
Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.