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When prescribing pain management to the elderly population, medical professionals need to take a few things into account that they normally wouldn’t be concerned with. Because of the hormonal and chemical differences in a person of advanced age, there are going to be some naturally-occurring changes in how they process medication.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that over half of older adults complain of chronic pain, often in more than one part of their body. This is normally due to a decrease in motion, resulting in injury when muscles are eventually used. It may seem counterintuitive to advise moving around more if you’re feeling discomfort, but there are many positive benefits to exercising. Even a mild exercise regime can assist in long-term pain management by promoting good balance, cognitive function, increased lung capacity and blood flow, and being more socially active, which reduces the odds of depression. 

That being said, there may be physical limitations preventing a patient from carrying out doctor’s orders involving stretching or doing exercise. Most older patients are prescribed a prescription-based approach rather than a course of physical therapy, which contributes to their risk of adverse reactions to the existing medications they already take on a daily basis. Pain medication, on top of existing ones, might end up doing more harm than good. 

Not only do the majority of elderly patients use anti-steroidal anti-inflammatories like NSAIDs, but also the process by which they process incoming food and medication will also be affected as their gastrointestinal system slows down and liver oxidation rates change. These developments can affect the duration of a drug half-life that’s already in the body. 

One of the most important steps when laying out a pain management plan with a patient is to identify the exact needs of each individual case so that they are custom-designed. The challenge with an elderly person is that there might be a barrier to clear communication when expressing what their exact needs are. 

Treating pain in the elderly is complicated further by the fact that the majority of people 65-years old and above have multiple chronic conditions by the time they need pain management. Some of these include heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.