Summary: New data suggests persistent pain is more common in older adults than thought. It appears that more than one-third of adults older than 65 are living with persistent pain and another one-third with intermittent pain. It means that less than one-third of older adults are relatively pain-free. A higher prevalence of pain in older adults is associated with much worse physical and mental health.
Pain is the most common reason for people seeking medical attention. Though the estimates vary, studies suggest that about one in five Americans is living with chronic pain at any given time. It is a kind of pain that lasts for more than three months. In fact, about 5% of adults are living with significant pain. This explains why so many adults are using opioids to manage pain.
Persistent pain is theoretically even worse than chronic pain. It is a kind of pain that would not respond well to painkillers. Thus, people living with persistent pain continue to experience the pain despite the treatment.
However, when we look at pain statistics, it is vital to understand that persistent pain is much more common in older adults. After all, older adults are often living with various physical and mental health issues. However, persistent pain can make things worse for such adults.
It is vital to realize the extent of the problem. Studies suggest that more than one-third of adults older than 65 years are living with persistent pain, and another one-third are living with intermittent pain. Thus, less than one-third of adults are living a pain-free life. Those are massive numbers, and they show the scale of the problem.
Managing pain in older adults is challenging due to its dual-sided relationship with physical and mental health issues. Pain may result from some physical ailment, but consistent pain makes a recovery from physical ailments even more difficult.
Similarly, persistent pain is quite likely to lead to depression and anxiety. What is even more complicated is that mental health issues like depression significantly increase the risk of chronic pain or persistent pain. It means that those living with depression are less likely to benefit from painkillers and continue to report pain, which may further worsen their mental health.
So, as one can see, a vicious circle is formed in older adults; pain worsens physical and mental health, and physical and mental health issues cause persistent pain. It simply underlines the challenges involved in managing persistent pain in older adults. Such adults would need a multi-dimensional approach to manage persistent pain.
It means that doctors would need to counter their pain effectively and, at the same time, manage physical and mental health issues. Only such a multi-dimensional approach can ensure a cure.
Researchers say that there is firm evidence persistent pain considerably increases the risk of depression and anxiety in older adults. Also, those living with persistent pain are more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or even cancer. Further, lower mood caused by pain means that these people were less likely to engage in self-care, eating, hygiene, and dressing.
Doctors say that there is only one good news persistent pain does not appear to result in cognitive impairment, and it does not seem to increase dementia risk.
Researchers suggest that clinicians should keep in mind that persistent pain prevalence is exceptionally high in older adults, and they should alter their treatment strategies accordingly. In addition, doctors must give special attention to managing persistent pain, as without it, they cannot expect to have better treatment outcomes.