Secrets to taking care of ourselves in “older” age…..Pain

Secrets to taking care of ourselves in “older” age……Pain

Pain.  Does your person you are caring for have pain?  I can’t tell you how many times I hear “Oh, no, mom doesn’t have pain.  She never complains of pain.”  Really?  No pain at 85 or 92 years old?  Aged bones, joints, ligaments…I’d bet there’s some pain.  “Oh, but Mom’s tough she’s never taken anything for pain.”  Well, I like to describe even a little pain as a vibration.  A small rumble.  The vibration/rumble can be very low and can wax and wane with stress, sickness, and time of day.  Noise.

Even if you think about yourself and what type of pain you may have.  Pain is sneaky.  It can creep up on you over years and you tolerate it not really recognizing you have pain.  If you really just become still and evaluate what your body is saying, I bet most of us could identify some sort of discomfort somewhere.  It’s important to listen to our bodies.  As the pain increases so does the vibration, the rumble, the noise.

I think stress is probably the biggest contributor to increased pain.  When we’re stressed we tighten up and don’t even realize it.  Think about what brings on stress for you.  Your work, your finances, your children, your parents, or when you can’t remember where you put that piece of paper or where you put your keys to the shed.  Stress does not go away when we’re older and we have people taking care of us.  In fact, I believe it gets worse.  All the stresses you have now, your mother still has those stresses.  You can say “Mom doesn’t work anymore, she doesn’t have work stress.”  Well, she has even more stress because she can’t work anymore.  Nobody wants her there, she’s too old, can’t keep up.  Now she’s bored.  Her finances are tight.  She can’t make it better.  She can no longer work and improve her financial situation.  And, to top it off, she doesn’t remember like she used to.  People are telling her she’s all washed up.  She’s done.  Even her family doesn’t look up to her anymore.  They just look at her as work – as a responsibility.  They love her immensely but they may see her as a burden, not necessarily intentionally but nonetheless, they may.  Mom knows.  She can feel it.  Stress.  And, of course it’s easy to relate how mom gets stressed over the family relations.  You do too.  Feel that vibration increasing?  That noise getting louder?

Watch mom.  Look at her body gestures.  Look at her facial expressions.  Is she rubbing a body part?  Is she holding herself a certain way that’s unusual for her, is she grouchier than usual, is she confused or more confused?  Be very observant.  You’ll pick up on it.

I had a woman I was taking care of who had been with me for years.  Her son was an ER physician and had been a Hospice physician.  In the last week of his mother’s life he was with her.  He had the morphine pain medication to administer to his mother in case she needed it.  One morning after breakfast I went into her apartment and walked into the bedroom.  There was her son, the physician, sitting next to his mother’s bed.  I looked at her and I noticed her face was scrunched up and she was moving her body slowly back and forth.  I spoke to the son and asked if he had given her any pain medication.  He said “No, do you think she’s in pain?”  She certainly was in pain and even as a physician, he could not see it.  Don’t feel bad while you learn to read your person or even yourself.  It takes a special eye but you can develop it.  Look for that pain and I know you’ll be able to recognize it.

Most of the time all it takes is a little Tylenol or Aleve.  I wouldn’t recommend Ibuprofen.  There is some information out there that it may not be the pain med of choice for elders.  In fact, I believe a couple of Tylenol before bed can really make a difference for someone and their ability to function the next day.  Studies are showing how a good night’s sleep is the key to fighting off disease, infections, and dementia.  

So what’s the big deal about pain.  So, mom hurts a little.  It’s better than her being hooked on pain meds.  Most elderly, not all, but most are so concerned about getting hooked that they refuse to take any sort of pain meds let alone narcotics.  And, narcotics are not necessarily the answer.  There are extreme cases people face where narcotics are necessary.  But to be so concerned about not getting hooked, is not a reason to put up with pain and inflammation.  Especially at the end of life when we need to be comfortable.

Here’s why it’s important to stay on top of any pain issues.  Pain creates confusion, grouchiness, decreases activity, and increases isolation and disappearing in ourselves.  Our world closes in.  And, once that happens it’s like a snowball.  It catches speed and exacerbates making the confusion, isolation, etc even worse.  Mom will be more stressed out in pain.  And, the stressful situations just get worse….she’s grouchy with her grandchildren or with you which later she regrets (even if she doesn’t tell you).  She worries more about what she can’t do anymore.  Now, she can’t move and get around like she used to.  You get the picture.  The snowball is picking up steam.  Pain is also a sign of inflammation.  As you know, inflammation is linked to disease.

Some pain management tools are: 1)Turmeric as a natural inflammation reducer and pain killer.  Studies are exploding with evidence of Turmeric’s overall health benefits.  Take a look at this website for more information about the benefits of Turmeric….

(2) Heat and ice are perfect pain reducers as well.  But, be sure you keep the heating pad to low.  I have had a 92 year old give herself 3rd degree burns with her heating pad.  Rice packs heated in the microwave are good if you think Mom’s going to crank up the heating pad and burn herself.  However, rice packs can be heated too high.  Try them at only a minute and put that on Mom and see how her skin reacts.  Be sure to put a towel between her skin and the rice pack the same way you do with a heating pad.  However, rice packs can catch on fire.  I had a woman who burned up her entire microwave thinking she put the rice pack in for a minute when in fact she put it in for one hour.

 (3)  Duragesic patches are also a great pain solution for some people.  Lidoderm patches are great for pain that you can place at the spine where the nerve goes out to the painful area.

(4) Re-positioning is very important for pain relief.  Many times it’s just having mom a cushion on her bum for a broken pelvis, or maybe it’s some cushioning in her favorite recliner so she doesn’t slouch to one side and strain the muscles causing pain. Or, it could be a body pillow and other pillows in bed that help.  On that note of bed, be sure she has a good mattress.  Remember, body alignment is important and pay attention to mom’s body position and that it makes sense and is aligned and is how you would be comfortable sitting or walking.  Occupational Therapists are trained on positioning.  If you need help, talk to your physician for an order for OT and have them work with mom.

(5) Exercise and movement is so important for pain management.  It may hurt at first and maybe that’s when you need to give mom some Tylenol, but get her moving.  Physical Therapists are trained to identify when the pain is not harmful.  If you question a certain location of pain, have a physician look at mom or ideally get an order for PT to do treatment to work through the pain.  Yoga and Essentrics are perfect to look at for ways to treat pain and to keep moving for overall health improvement.

(6) Acupuncture is incredible in treating pain. Look at it with an open mind and give it a try.  If you are leery of Acupuncture, let the therapist know it so that they can be very sensitive to your apprehension.  And, I would recommend talking to the Acupuncture therapist to determine if they respect your position on overall health management particularly if you believe in traditional medicine.

(7) Body temperature – Being too cold or hot can make a person very uncomfortable.  Is mom warm?  Being nice and warm can really make a difference for any of us let alone a senior who has many reasons of which the body is not maintaining a warm temperature.   All mom may need is a little blanket or a sweater or jacket.  Most seniors don’t suffer with being too hot, but extreme heat is not good for them and it can make them very uncomfortable.

(7) Last but not least, laughter is the perfect antidote to pain.  There is study after study supporting our Creator’s direction to take our medicine….”laughter doeth good like a medicine.”  Not only will laughter alleviate pain, it will heal the body.  Our Creator designed our bodies natural chemicals to be turned on during laughter.  Our overall well being is critical to a good ol’ laugh.  Find out what makes mom laugh, and get going.  And, while you’re at it, I bet your laughter and good humor may very well be the key to turn on laughter for her.  So, get laughing, if not for your sake but for your mom’s sake.

I know that when you give your energy to pain identification and treatment you will not only feel better about how you are taking care of mom but I bet you and mom have a better relationship.  Mom can have her “Senior Life, Live it and Live It Well.”

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