The Continuum of Chronic Pain and Aging

What are the statistics for the elderly population?

As our bodies age in later life, things begin to slowly but surely break down. You may find that more medications begin to enter your day-to-day life, or more therapies may look to aid in relieving nagging aches and pains. That is why taking a preventive lifestyle towards the natural process of aging can help avoid the myth that pain is a foregone part of growing older. Here, it may be beneficial to build solid relationships with caregivers or pain specialists to explore your options—medications, devices and physical therapy – are effective ways to manage pain later in life.

(Source: 123RF)

Here are some statistics on chronic pain in older populations:

  • Pain is a very common problem for older persons (ie, those age 65 and over), with persistent pain affecting more than 50% of such individuals persons living in the community setting and more than 80% of those living in nursing homes.1
  • Along with a greater prevalence rate of chronic medical comorbidities in later adulthood, the most frequent pain complaints among elderly patients are osteoarthritic back pain, especially in the low back or neck (around 65%), musculoskeletal pain (around 40%), peripheral neuropathic pain (typically due to diabetes or postherpetic neuralgia, 35%), and chronic joint pain (15% to 25%).2
  • 75% of people age 65 or older have two or more chronic conditions—such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, or arthritis.3
  • Approximately 30% to 50% of people with dementia are likely to also experience chronic pain.2
  • Older persons with dementia or communication problems are even more at risk of under-treatment of pain, due to difficulties communicating their pain. They are known to receive fewer analgesics than others of similar age and pathology.1
  • Individuals with chronic pain had on average a 9.2% faster memory decline and a 7.7% faster increase in dementia probability.4
  • Among elderly veterans, 50% report suffering from chronic pain.5 In a survey, approximately 65% percent of US Veterans reported having pain in the three months prior to being surveyed, with approximately 9% classified as having severe pain. Severe pain was 40% greater in veterans than non-veterans, especially among those who served in recent conflicts.3
  • Interestingly, older military veterans who were not prescribed opioids were shown to have improved pain intensity over time than those who were prescribed opioids.6

With more and more people entering their retirement years, expansion of geriatric programs to accompanying the onset of chronic pain remains an important factor as this population reaches their twilight. Older patients with chronic pain need better access to the healthcare they need, and a continuous effort between patients, families, and providers need to be made together to meet this goal.

Updated on: 10/10/18
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