Personal Pain Assessments for Seniors

Apr 8, 2016

Personal Pain Assessments for Seniors

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Pain is an unfortunate but can be a reoccurring factor in life every person must manage. As people age, pain and discomfort become less and less reported. This is due to the false perception that pain is a common symptom of aging. Therefore, seniors do not seek diagnoses because they think that living with discomfort is what is supposed to happen as you get older.

Many fail to realize the serious strain daily pain inflicts on a person’s independence and quality of life. To adequately target and manage day-to-day pain, seniors can perform daily personal assessments of pain. Personal pain assessments are important and insightful tools, which can help identify problem areas for both the patient and the patient’s doctor.

The Quality of Life Scale

Created by the American Chronic Pain Association, the Quality of Life Scale: A Measure of Function for People with Pain is a discerning tool for personal pain assessment. This pain scale is designed to create an initial foundation for doctors to understand the patient’s pain symptoms and how the pain is affecting important areas of daily living. Pain is ranked on a scale of 0, indicating the pain prevents daily function, to 10, indicating the pain doesn’t interfere with the normal quality of life. The interference of pain is then evaluated on a scale of 0 to 10 in these five areas of life:

  • The ability to work
  • The ability to socialize
  • The ability to exercise
  • The ability to perform housekeeping chores
  • A person’s mood

This Quality of Life Scale is helpful as a reoccurring evaluation while managing pain to assess which types of pain treatment are effective and those that are not.

Keeping a Pain Diary

Seniors have also found success by tracking daily pain via a pain diary. Structured similarly to the Quality of Life Scale, pain diaries are designed to act as daily records of pain to give doctors insight on the profile of pain symptoms the patient is experiencing. Pain diaries assess patient pain via four areas directly related to the discomfort. Patients are asked to record in detail:

  • The location of the pain
  • The severity of the pain
  • The activity which triggered the increased amount of pain
  • The medication or alternate treatments used to soothe the pain

Both the pain diary and the American Chronic Pain Association Quality of Life Scale are meaningful pain assessment practices resulting in significant data. Discomfort is an indicator the physical body needs attention. Recording repeated pain evaluations would allow patients to be more aware of pain-related issues such as increased pain resulting in chronic pain. Other symptoms of chronic pain which indicate the need for medical attention include:

  • Mild to severe continuous pain
  • Pain described as shooting, burning, aching or electrical
  • Discomfort, soreness, tightness or stiffness
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Weakened immune system
  • Drastic changes in mood such as increased depression or anxiety

Personal Pain Assessment for Seniors

To prevent the initial problem from progressing into a larger issue, patients must also be aware when it is appropriate to seek medical attention for chronic and reoccurring pain. If one is continuously recording the same profile of pain for more than three months, it is important that person seeks a medical physician in which case the logs of pain assessments become a perceptive instrument for diagnoses. If the personal pain assessments reveal a need to seek a medical physician to diagnose the real issue, one must seek the most appropriate expert to treat and manage their chronic pain, as well as identify the initial trigger of the pain.

There is a wide array of medical expert options available such as a family doctor, a physician’s assistant or a pain management specialist. Once in the doctor’s office, provide the logs of the personal pain evaluations for the doctor to review and consider. Because no one but the patient has an intimate understanding of her or his body, it is important for the patient to converse with the doctor concerning the symptoms, medical tests and diagnoses of the patient’s discomfort. While discussing the best options for assessment, keep in mind these questions for the doctor:

  1. What potential serious conditions and their symptoms could be causing my pain?
  2. What will worsen my pain?
  3. What can I do in my life to reduce the pain?
  4. Is medicine necessary for treatment or are there alternate solutions?
  5. If medicine is necessary, how does the medicine work?
  6. If medicine is necessary, will the side effects be long term or harmful at any point during treatment?
  7. Can I develop other problems resulting from my pain?
  8. What resources are there to learn more about the type of pain I’m experiencing?
  9. Should I receive recommended special accommodations for home or work?
  10. How often should I visit the doctor’s office for this issue?

Keep in mind physical discomfort is not an unanswerable problem nor should it be accepted as the norm. It is important to be aware of the type of pain being experienced to better manage the discomfort preventing the pain from dictating a person’s entire life.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common side effects of opioids?

There are some unpleasant side effects of opioids that you will want to discuss with your senior’s physician or pain management specialist. They are:

  • Constipation: The elderly and those with conditions affecting the gastrointestinal tract are most likely to suffer from constipation when taking opioids.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Depending on what opioid your loved one is taking, it may take a toll on the gastrointestinal tract, causing nausea and vomiting.
  • Itching: Though this symptom will typically last for just a few days, patients may feel itchy due to the release of histamines triggered by opioids.
  • Respiratory depression: This is a rare symptom, though will be present in an opioid overdose. If you or your senior experience shallow slow breathing when taking opioids, talk to your doctor to determine if medication changes should be made, or if it is stemming from another underlying condition.

Learn more about chronic pain management for seniors by reading about how to treat chronic pain in the elderly.

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So I’m not one to try pain medicines unless it’s a last resort - does acupuncture work for seniors?

We hear you! There are many studies to show that acupuncture can be effective in treating mild forms of osteoarthritis. Essentially, this technique causes an increase in T-cells and inhibits inflammatory cytokines which can result in pain management. Acupuncture may also be useful for those suffering from back pain and headaches. Results can vary, however it is one non-drug option many seniors try frequently.

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