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Coping with Chronic Pain: September is Pain Awareness Month

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Happy older adults enjoying each other's company and being active.Chronic pain is a public health problem in the U.S., affecting one in five adults. To bring attention to the impact pain has on individuals, families and society, September has been designated Pain Awareness Month.

Chronic pain persists for more than three months, and can seriously disrupt daily life. Age increases the risk, and it can lead to depression, irritability, and anxiety. The American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), which launched Pain Awareness Month in 2001, identified these common sources:

  • Arthritis 
  • Back problems
  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Neurological conditions

Pain Awareness

While often incurable, chronic pain can be managed through medications, exercise, physical and behavioral therapies, and relaxation achieved through meditation, yoga and the like.

The National Institute on Aging offers self-care recommendations to help manage pain:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Be physically active
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Avoid tobacco, caffeine and alcohol, which can interfere with treatment
  • Join a pain support group

The Opioid Epidemic

Prescription opioids became a go-to treatment for chronic and acute pain in the late 1990s, but that has had devastating results: about 218,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and  2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death in U.S. adults under age 50. Opioid overdoses (prescriptions and illegal drugs) claimed 47,600 lives in 2017 —  accounting for more than half of all drug overdose deaths, the CDC reported. An estimated 2 million reported misusing prescription pain relievers within the year, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

Caution is being urged when it comes to the prescribing of opioids, and alternative approaches are being promoted.

Tame the Pain

NewBridge Services recently launched Tame The Pain: Opioid-Free Pain Management for Older Adults. Funded by the New Jersey Department of Human Services, Tame the Pain teaches participants about the risks of prescription painkillers, and the array of evidence-based pain management options that don’t involve addictive opioids.

There is growing evidence that exercise, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, physical therapy, biofeedback, cognitive behavioral therapy, and chiropractic care can help manage pain, often in combination with medications like acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

For information about Tame the Pain, contact NewBridge at services@newbridge.org or (973) 316-9333. While workshops are open to people of all ages, they are geared for seniors and their caregivers, families, and service providers.

Opioid Awareness

If you are prescribed opioids for pain:

  • Never take more than prescribed
  • Work with your physician to create a pain management plan with alternative pain management options
  • Never sell or share prescription opioids, or use another person’s medication
  • Store prescription opioids in a secure place
  • Safely dispose of unused medication

Even when taken as directed, prescription opioids can have side effects: 

  • Tolerance (you might need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief)
  • Physical dependence (symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped)
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy, and strength
  • Itching and sweating

NewBridge has been helping seniors maximize their independence since 1987 through NewBridge Senior Assistance for Independent Living (SAIL). NewBridge@Home provides in-home counseling for homebound seniors and respite for caregivers. And NewBridge has a decades-long track record of educating the community about various health and wellness topics.

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