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How To Help Your Elderly Loved One In Pain
You hate to see your loved one hurting. Perhaps you are wondering what you can do to help. Here are some ideas:
First, learn everything you can about your loved one's condition(s). Understanding what is causing the pain and what can aggravate it will help you to be more compassionate. Pain is not a natural consequence of aging. If your loved one does not have a diagnosis, help them find one. Sometimes it is never clear. With an older adult, it's important to make quality of life the first priority. Consider their age, stamina, overall health, intensity of pain and mental status; it's frequently not worth the stress of running several tests and going to several specialists. Always believe your loved one, the pain is what they say it is, whether the cause can be found or not.
Older adults tend to wait to report pain until the intensity is unmanageable. Do not assume they don't have pain, if they don't mention it. Ask if they hurt periodically. With many elderly the correct word must be used, they may say it's not pain "it's just sore or numb." When they do mention pain, do not assume it's mild or manageable, ask them where it hurts, for how long and how severe. If your loved one has Alzheimer's disease or any cognitive impairments, they still feel pain, but will probably not communicate it. Observe for changes in behavior, moaning and groaning, soft voice, tense facial expressions, laying down more, fidgeting. and/or resistance to care. Also, be aware for conditions (i.e. arthritis) and situations (i.e. tube feeding) where there is a high risk for pain. Treat the pain as early as possible.
Ask if you can go to the doctor or practitioner with your loved one. People often benefit from an advocate. Even if they are normally alert and able to communicate well, pain often causes cloudy thinking. Also, it's common for older adults to put on their best face when seeing the doctor and not complain. Be as organized as possible, before you go in document pain symptoms, how is it affecting quality of life, medications currently taking and questions. Hand a copy to the doctor and go over together, taking notes. Encourage your loved one to be as involved as possible; they need to feel a sense of control over their health care.
Keep a file containing every medical visit. Giving the same information to all providers ensures better treatment. Many elderly think it's the doctor's job to figure out the diagnosis; they may need to be reminded the doctors base the intervention and diagnosis on the information provided. Give medications or treatments appropriate time to work, but if the pain is not adequately managed ask for other options. Many families feel once a pain pill is prescribed that's all that can be done. There are many pain medications and non-pharmacological options to try. It can be a process to find what works best. It's possible to manage most pain. It may not clear completely, but it can be manageable. Addiction rarely occurs when pain medicine is prescribed for a medical condition. Concerns about side effects may be unwarranted, become educated. If side effects do develop, many can be managed.
Be as patient as you can with your loved one. Be a supportive listener, but do not allow yourself to be worn down. Take good care of yourself. Suggest that your loved one attend a support group or receive counseling if they need more attention than you can give. It's often helpful for family members to attend a family support group. Setting clear boundaries on what you will and will not do is healthy for both of you. You cannot save your loved one from their pain, but your relationship can make a big difference in how well they cope with it.
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