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Aging Happens: Pain is not a normal condition

If you’re having any pain, raise your hand and join the crowd.

The journal Pain Management and the Elderly reported last June that “a recent ... National Institutes of Health-funded study found that more than half (53%) of the older adults surveyed reported having bothersome pain in the last month; three-quarters of them reported having pain in more than one location.”

This is even higher (up to 83%) among the elderly in nursing homes. That's why pain was officially declared "The Fifth Vital Sign” some years ago. The evaluation of pain has been as important and basic as the assessment of temperature, blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate.

And then there’s pain that doesn’t go away. From the article, “Managing Chronic Pain in the Elderly” (September 2018): “Chronic pain is defined as the pain that lasts for three to six months or more than expected. If you are an older person experiencing pain, keep in mind that you run a higher-than-average risk of side effects from all drugs, including analgesics like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Ibuprofen.”

Pain and pain management are a growing concern among Americans 65 and older. Pain may be underreported due to the misconception that it is a normal process of aging. It’s not, and it needs more attention than it might be receiving. So, what can you do?

Many years ago, I worked at a clinic in Ashland, the Pacific Spine and Pain Center. The late Dr. James Dunn, a neurosurgeon, created a multidisciplinary team. It consisted of a pain management program that included osteopathic and chiropractic manipulation, physical therapy and exercise, massage therapy, medical hypnosis, biofeedback, mindfulness practices, pain injections, and several medical providers and practices, including surgery. It was a one-of-a-kind medical practice that served the community for a long time. What are your options for care now?

First, it’s well known that there are positive benefits of incorporating an exercise program, even light exercise, into a pain management program for older adults. The benefits include improving physical function, reducing isolation and depression, and enhancing balance and mental acuity. Next, according to the National Institute on Aging, 41% of older adults (ages 60 to 69) are frequent users of complementary and alternative medicine, including acupuncture, vitamins and herbal supplements, counseling interventions, and most of the modalities mentioned above at the former Spine Center.

In addition, you can find many other practices in the valley that address pain. Here are a few.

In Medford: Providence Interventional Pain Management Clinic (541-732-8360); Pain Specialists of Southern Oregon (541-779-5228); Touchstone Interventional Pain Center (541-773-1435); and in Ashland: Advanced Pain Care (541-482-1712).

If you are interested in incorporating any of the complementary approaches, you will need to locate separate providers for each one of those.

In unremitting pain, people sometimes express the wish to no longer live. When asked about this, though, it turns out that what they don’t want is continuing to live with that degree of pain. That might mean putting together the best combination of medical providers, medications, complementary and alternative approaches, and a great support team.

People usually find they can return to a level of functioning that works well enough to enjoy their life again. Not all pain can be totally erased, but finding what works best, and how to reside in a body that is not always comfortable, might be a practical solution.

Ellen Waldman is a certified aging life care professional. Submit questions about aging and Ashland-area aging resources and column suggestions to her through her website, www.SeniorOptionsAshland.com.