Treating Pain: Seniors and the Opioid Crisis

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, in 2015 and 2016 nearly 4 million older adults filled multiple opioid prescriptions at the same time and nearly 10 million filled at least one opioid prescription. In addition, there was a 34 percent jump in opioid-related inpatient hospitalizations of seniors between 2010 and 2015, despite the fact that non-opioid-related hospitalizations dropped by 17 percent.

These worrying statistics shed light on a complicated, underlying issue: pain management. Chronic pain is common among seniors, but it’s important to remember that it is not a natural symptom of aging. Underlying health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease can attribute to pain. Chronic pain often has a debilitating effect on the quality of life and can lead to an opioid prescription. Even with medication, 59 percent of people living with chronic pain report a decreased overall enjoyment of life, 77 percent feel depressed, and 86 percent have trouble sleeping, according to a Voices of Chronic Pain survey.

At Brookdale, we strive to improve the quality of life for our residents and patients and are sensitive to their pain management needs. I believe there are three key steps to improving pain management in seniors.

The first step is education. Train nurses, caregivers, or anyone else charged with caring for another individual on recognizing, reporting and documenting signs of pain. It’s also important to be aware of and understand that there may be non-pharmacological interventions as alternatives to prescribing medication. Physical therapy, acupuncture, massage, counseling and alternative medicine are just a few examples.

The second step is using good judgment when monitoring pharmacological interventions. Medication is prescribed when non-pharmacological approaches aren’t successfully treating pain. Take note if your resident or patient is frequently using multiple types of pain medication, or if there are orders for several types of pain medication.

The third step is anticipating, monitoring, and treating side effects. Some of the common opioid side effects are constipation, drowsiness, mood changes, allergic reaction, increased tolerance, and dependence. There should be a proactive plan to prevent constipation, since the senior population is prone to complications, such as bowel obstruction.

While there is no quick fix for pain or opioid addiction, these three steps help evaluate the impact of pain on quality of life and the effectiveness of a pain management plan. 

The above content is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you have a medical condition.  The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our site.

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