With age comes wisdom. And in many cases, with age comes pain. An estimated 85% of seniors live with pain. As our bodies age, our tendons and ligaments become less flexible, muscles get together, and injuries take longer to heal. It’s also more common to develop painful conditions, such as arthritis and shingles.
Though pain is invisible, it can be debilitating and interfere with your day-to-day life, including your ability to sleep, engage in hobbies, and enjoy life.
In most cases, there is no “silver bullet” that works for everyone to eliminate pain. Finding the right pain relief is often a trial-and-error experience. It’s important to have options you can choose from to help reduce your pain and live as pain-free as possible.
Pain Management Options for Seniors
There are several types of medications available to treat pain. While generally safe, there are potential side effects and risks. Seniors are at a higher risk of adverse drug events — serious side effects — due to physiological changes that take place in the body as we age.
For example, when we get older, the gastrointestinal tract slows down, which may inhibit the absorption rate of some medications. A diminishing liver oxidation rate can lengthen the half-life of certain medications, and a natural decline in kidney function may increase the risk of medication-related toxicity in the body.
It’s important to take medication as directed to avoid potential risks. Speak with your doctor before using any of these medications, particularly if you have any health conditions or are on prescription medications.
Relatively safe in older adults, this medication (Tylenol) reduces pain by acting on pain receptors in the brain. Acetaminophen is particularly effective at treating mild pain. Acetaminophen is metabolized by the liver, and should be avoided if you have a liver condition. Talk with your doctor before taking acetaminophen — they can tell you if it will negatively interact with any other medications you are currently taking.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs block the production of certain chemicals in the body that can cause pain and inflammation. Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. These are particularly effective at treating mild to moderate pain. However, NSAIDs do come with risks, particularly in older adults. GI bleeding and cardiovascular risks are common with long-term use of NSAIDs. If you have a kidney condition, you should not use NSAIDs at all.
Opioids are highly effective and are often prescribed to help manage chronic pain. However, they come with risks in older adults, even when taken as prescribed. In addition to the risk of addiction and potential drug interactions with any other medications you are taking, studies show an increased risk of falls and fractures associated with opioid use in older adults.
Over-the-counter and prescription pain medications often come with a host of unwanted side effects. Many seniors are seeking better treatment options and alternative approaches to managing their pain. Research shows that medical marijuana has become increasingly popular among seniors. In 2006, 0.4% of seniors used medical marijuana, and by 2018, 4.2% were using it for pain management.
The cannabis plant contains chemicals called cannabinoids that help manage pain. The two major cannabinoids are:
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This gives the ‘high’ feeling. In addition to being a mood booster, THC can help reduce pain.
- Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has no psychoactive effects but can provide a number of therapeutic benefits, including pain relief and reduced inflammation.
Though it’s commonly associated with smoking, cannabis is available in many forms, including oils, edibles, capsules, and topical creams. Medical marijuana is available for qualified patients in the state of Florida.
If you’re considering using medical marijuana to manage your pain, talk with your doctor. They can inform you if it is safe to use, depending on your physical and mental health, and any medications you are taking.
Most of the adverse effects associated with medical marijuana happen as a result of taking too much. If you’re a newbie to it or are not sure how much to use, the general guideline is to ‘start low and go slow.’ You can slowly increase your dosage until you find the right amount that helps reduce your pain with few side effects.