The month of September has been designated National Pain Awareness Month — and for good reason. According to a 2011 report commissioned by the U.S. Congress, more than 100 million American adults suffer from chronic pain. A great many of these people are our elderly friends and family members.
With September just around the corner, it’s a great time to focus on helping our seniors cope with and manage pain. You’re probably aware that muscles and joints lose flexibility with advancing age — but you may not know that many seniors endure a great deal of pain without reporting it.
There are several reason why your loved one may be suffering in silence. He or she might believe that pain is an inevitable result of aging, and therefore is impossible to ease. Your senior might not be willing to take additional medications, or to undergo lengthy, expensive testing.
Ease the Worry, Lessen the Pain
Luckily, there are ways to manage and reduce chronic pain, even without additional medications. Current research is pointing to a number of simple techniques you and your loved one can use to keep pain at bay, including these:
Lowering stress levels
One of the simplest ways to deal with chronic pain is by lowering stress. When we’re stressed, our bodies release an excess of the hormone cortisol — and too much cortisol will make us feel pain more often and more acutely. The ways to lower stress are as numerous as the activities and interests your senior enjoys.
Listening to calming music, taking a gentle walk outdoors when the weather is pleasant, practicing deep breathing exercises or drawing and painting are all excellent ways to lower stress and make life more enjoyable. It’s also important for seniors to maintain a positive outlook on life. Your company will mean a great deal — so be present as much as you can.
Exercise helps seniors to stay flexible, and helps keep those joints from aching. Your loved one may respond to a tai chi or yoga class for seniors — many of these classes are called “chair” classes, and are specifically designed for folks with limited mobility.
Another great option is “virtual” team sports. Electronic game consoles like the Wii and X-Box offer a tremendous variety of fun activities for seniors, from bowling to Rock Band. These games also provide a great opportunity for intergenerational fun, as the kids are nearly always available for a few rounds of a favorite video game.
Here’s a bit of common-sense wisdom: the less time we have to think about pain, the less aware we are of pain. So make sure your elderly family members have plenty of social activities in their lives. Depending on your senior’s interests, he or she may enjoy a book club, a regular card tournament or even a pottery class.
A Few Points to Remember
Many seniors start to develop a “sweet tooth” as they age. But a diet that’s too high in sugar can promote inflammation in the body — and that’s often how pain begins. Encourage your loved one to eat high-protein foods instead, which support muscle strength.
If physical therapy is an option, take advantage of it. A skilled professional will understand the limitations of aging and create a custom program to help your senior stay active and pain-free. Massages, foot rubs and pedicures are another great way to promote good circulation and relaxation — treat your loved one to the deluxe treatment whenever possible.
And finally, be generous with your time and attention. Sometimes all we need to feel happy and comfortable is the company of those we love the most.