With age comes the likelihood for experiencing some type of pain, potentially even chronic pain, which lasts for several months or longer. Studies show an estimated 60 to 75 percent of adults older than 65 reported experiencing some kind of persistent pain.

Often, opioids can be extremely effective at reducing pain and improving quality of life, and many doctors rely on them to treat patient’s pain. However, these medications are not without risk or possible side effects, especially in older adults. We outline everything you need to know about opioids for pain management. 

Image of a physician explaing prescriptions to a caregiver

How can I tell if pain is normal or needs medical attention?

If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort for longer than a few days, it’s always best to tell your doctor. If you’re caring for a chronically ill loved one, don’t expect that they will tell you if they’re experiencing pain.

The cause of pain can be unknown, or it can be the result of conditions like stroke, surgery, arthritis, nerve damage or amputation.  But growing older or being diagnosed with certain conditions does not mean you have to live with chronic pain.

Try to ask questions about how they’re feeling and if any parts of their body are aching or hurting. They may assume pain is normal, or they don’t want to worry you by speaking up. However, if pain is untreated, it can lead to serious health consequences such as depression, limited mobility and poor sleep.

If you’re able to, attend appointments with them to make sure you get the necessary information. All pain is different, and there are many different ways to treat it. The more information you give the physician, the better the treatment he or she can provide.

What should I be aware of about opioids?

Your doctor is well-trained to determine the best pain management plan for you or your loved one, but you should make sure to ask all the questions you may have about side effects, how this medication may interact with others you’re taking and at what point you should follow-up with your doctor. 

Older patients respond to medication differently than younger patients. As we age, our kidneys and liver decrease in size and receive less blood flow, meaning there’s less filtration of the drug out of our system and our bodies have a harder time breaking down medication. Additionally, older patients are more likely to take other daily medications that could react negatively with pain medication.

The American Geriatrics Society’s Guidelines for the Management of Persistent Pain in Older Adults recommends that physicians simplify pain regimens and avoid prescribing multiple drugs to treat the same condition. Older patients should be started at the lowest dose and then increased only if the pain persists.

If your loved one is prescribed medication for pain, watch them closely in the weeks and months after the prescription begins. Opioids can cause dizziness, which creates a fall risk. Make sure your loved one has a complete understanding of the amount of medication they should be taking and how often.

If you have questions about care for yourself or a loved one, or want to find out about medication management assistance, call 1.866.KINDRED to speak with a Registered Nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

By Caroline South