Dear Older Self,
Aging often brings an increase in aches and pains. Arthritis may set in or get worse. Joints can become worn down. Discs may be bulging. Falls become more of a risk. Surgeries are sometimes needed. Painful neuropathy from diabetes or chemotherapy may become part of life. Slowed circulation in the legs may cause ongoing suffering.
If you experience some kind of chronic pain know that it can take a toll on you but know as well that pain can be managed. Pain can take a toll on your ability to stay mobile, on your energy, on your mood, on your mental acuity and on your general functioning. It can make it difficult for you to stay engaged with other people. For all these reasons pain needs to be managed. And it can be. You don’t need to suffer because of untreated pain.
Finding relief from pain can, however, become a problem. There are several reasons that this is especially true as you age. First, the older we get the more likely it is that pain will be chronic pain. That means that any treatment for pain may need to continue for a long time. This potential need for chronic pain management is complicated by the fact that your ability to metabolize medications is compromised by your aging kidney. You just do not metabolize medications as quickly as you once did. If you have experienced some decrease in cognitive functioning this can be made worse by some pain medications. It is also possible that poor eye sight or poor memory can make it more difficult for you to comply with the doctor’s instructions about pain medications—you may, for example, forget when, and if, your took your last pain medication.
In addition to all of these concerns, you may be lonely or bored or depressed or grieving which can put you at increased risk for the abuse of pain medications. You may find yourself taking pain medications to ease your emotional distress.
The bottom line is this: the combination of chronic pain and ongoing emotional challenges can turn the medications intended to be part of the solution into part of the problem.
Remember your elderly friend whose need for pain relief snowballed into wanting more and more pain medication? Her doctor prescribed more and more. Eventually, however, she was going from doctor to doctor and ER to ER in an effort to get more and more of her pain medications.
You have also seen the suffering created when pain has not been properly treated in an elderly loved one. Remember the time pain medication had been ordered for an elderly man who had a broken back? The narcotics left him confused and lethargic. When his elderly wife would ask the staff to decrease the dose, they stopped the medication entirely—leaving him in pain. They did not explore other possible pain management strategies until you talked with them and offered a few ideas.
There are many ways to manage pain. For this elderly man, a combination of anti-inflammatory medications and an anti-depressant proved to be enough to keep him comfortable. The anti-depressant also made it easier for him to sleep at night and helped him regain his appetite. And, unlike narcotics, anti-depressants do not come with an increased risk for addiction.
In addition to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and anti-depressants, there are guided imagery meditations that have been shown to help people relieve and manage pain. These guided imagery meditations can help to reduce anxiety, elevate mood, increase relaxation and decrease pain. One source of meditations of this kind, that have been helpful to you in the past, is healthjourneys.com.
There are many other tools that can play a part in pain management. Physical therapy, chiropractic treatments and acupuncture can sometimes be helpful. Regular exercise such as walking or swimming can also make a significant difference in decreasing pain and increasing a sense of well being.
It is possible that narcotics may still be necessary for pain management. Using a wide range of pain management strategies, however, can significantly decrease the amount of narcotics needed. This will reduce your chances of becoming addicted or dependent on pain medications.
So, dear older self, invite your family and friends to talk openly with you about any concerns they have about your use of pain medication. Do your best to listen to them and to be open to alternative methods of managing your pain. Try to stay open to getting whatever help you need if you have become addicted to or are abusing pain medication.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com