Chronic pain is a condition which disproportionately affects seniors. Studies have shown that there is a high prevalence of pain in 50% of the total number of seniors in community-dwellings and in up to 80% of nurses home residents. While pain is commonly experienced by older patients, it should in no way be considered a normal part of the aging process. This incorrect assumption leads to under-diagnosis and improper treatment, leaving seniors vulnerable and their quality of life significantly impaired.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is a wide body of research which indicates that seniors who experience chronic pain are not provided with proper pain management. Inadequate treatment has been directly related to under-diagnosed. While chronic pain remains generally under-diagnosed, research has indicated that a majority of these under-diagnoses are in cases of chronic pain experienced by seniors. Research has shown that the majority of older patients are not evaluated for pain, and one-third of those that do receive treatment do not receive any follow up. Barriers for accurate diagnosis and treatment include limited training in medical schools, pain management being seen as a low priority and a lack of time for proper assessment.
Consequences of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain can reduce overall quality of life in seniors. Secondary effects include depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, appetite disturbance, weight loss, cognitive impairment and limitation in the performance of daily activities. Studies, for instance, have revealed that the prevalence of depression among those with chronic pain was 43.8% aged 85 to 89 years and 54.9% of those aged 90 years or older. In comparison, only 14.8% of those without chronic pain aged 85 to 89 years and 16.7% of those 90 or older experienced symptoms of depression.
The Wider Impact
Seniors' chronic pain has wider implications for Ontario's health care system. There is no doubt that our population is rapidly aging. This means that an increasing number of seniors will be experiencing chronic pain. Ultimately, this means that there will be increased burden place on Ontario health care system. In order most effectively manage these costs, an appropriate pain management system must be put in place. Properly assessing and treating chronic pain means health care resources will be more efficiently used and seniors will not end up in emergency rooms or in hospitals rooms for issues that could have been prevented or more effectively managed.
Chronic pain in seniors needs to be increasingly recognized, diagnosed and more appropriately treated. Not only can seniors' quality of life be improved with effective pain management, but an appropriate strategy will reduce the burden on health care resources, particularly as our population ages. The implementation of a comprehensive pain strategy with a particular focus and course of action directed towards managing seniors' chronic pain is urgently needed.