Extended life expectancies have resulted in a rapidly growing population of people living well into their 80s, 90s, and beyond.
After all those years, the cumulative effects of running, jumping, working, and living can be felt in the bones. And the back. And sometimes the knees. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Although elderly people are more likely to experience pain, it’s not a prerequisite for aging. You can live long and feel good. Telling your doctor is the first step to managing pain.
As many as 85% of elderly people living in nursing homes suffer from chronic pain, according to the National Institutes of Health, as do 50% of those living independently.
Those numbers may be artificially low since people mistakenly believe that chronic pain is an inevitable part of aging and may not tell their doctors, according to a review published in The Ochsner Journal. And for about half of geriatric patients experiencing chronic pain, their doctors were unable to detect their discomfort, according to the review.
Chronic pain isn’t an inevitable part of aging. Seeking treatment and making healthy lifestyle choices helps older people live full lives.
Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, many elderly people do develop conditions leading to chronic pain. As people grow older, their bodies lose muscle mass and flexibility, and body systems begin to slow down.
Common conditions causing chronic pain in the elderly include osteoarthritis, pain from cancer, and angina.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative, inflammatory condition affecting the joints. Experts aren’t sure how or why it develops, but the condition is the most common type of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide.
Commonly affected joints include the hips, knees, lower back, neck, and hands. Pain results from cartilage that wears down in these joints, leaving the bones with little buffer as they move.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, and loss of flexibility. Although there is no cure, there are medications and non-surgical procedures available to reduce the pain. Healthy lifestyle choices, including gentle exercise and eating a healthy diet full of inflammation-reducing vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats including nuts and olive oil, can also help manage the pain.
Cancer continues to be a common disease. Despite advances in early detection and treatment, little headway has been made in preventing its development. Pain from cancer affects many elderly people with the disease and may be underreported because patients fear the pangs signal disease advancement, according to the Ochsner Journal review.
Depending on the stage and type of cancer, treatment options for pain can vary, but they include medication, relaxation techniques, and alternative therapies, such as acupuncture.
Angina is chest pain that is often a symptom of coronary heart disease, which is the most common type of heart problem for adults, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The condition affects about seven million people in the U.S.
Seeking treatment for the underlying heart problem and making lifestyle changes is essential for managing angina.
For the elderly, managing pain is essential for maintaining quality of life well into their later years.
Left untreated, pain may lead to decreased sleep, social isolation, and feelings of depression or anxiety. Treating pain not only lessens the pain itself; it also alleviates the psychological side effects, which could prolong a person’s life by improving overall health.
Greater social awareness about the pain elderly face has initiated efforts to improve lives, regardless of age.
Initiatives such as Healthy Aging Month, held every September, seek to raise awareness that seniors can retain many aspects of their wellness as they age. No matter what medical conditions a person is dealing with, making healthy lifestyle choices such as eating healthy, exercising, and working to reduce stress will help to improve health and overall quality of life.
Elderly people may not want to take up Crossfit, the latest workout craze that involves a culture of people pushing themselves to the brink of exhaustion, but activities such as walking, golf, and gentle yoga are wonderful ways to stay in shape into your later years.
Healthy Aging Month organizers want to inspire elderly people and senior citizens that it’s never too late to re-invent yourself. It’s never to late to take one small step today, right now, to developing a healthier you. Pain isn’t an automatic by-product of being elderly.
Health and wellness involve so much more than simply the absence of pain or disease, and Healthy Aging Month’s goals reflect that all-encompassing definition. Organizers encourage people to focus on mental, social, and financial well-being in addition the physical component.
Tips for healthy aging
Be mindful of these tips for healthy aging:
- Be who you want to be! Just because you’re 68, doesn’t mean you need to enclose yourself in the definition of how you think a 68-year-old person should act. Want to wear colorful clothes and go out dancing? Do it.
- Evaluate your life and see what new goals you’d like to accomplish. Working to achieve things can give your life meaning and make you excited to wake up every day.
- Stand up tall when you walk, and put some pep in your step. Taking long strides helps keep muscles loose and flexible while good posture helps reduce back and other muscle pain. It also helps you look younger and leaner.
- Make regular doctors visits, and be honest about any pain or discomfort you’re feeling. It’s much easier to treat problems when caught at an early stage.
- Get social. Join a club or volunteer to get out into the community, meet people and have fun all while helping others. Isolation is a common problem among the elderly, and retaining social connections can help you stay healthy.
- Try to stay positive and surround yourself with positive people. Life is full of many setbacks and difficult experiences, but the good often outweighs the bad. Smile at all you’ve seen and experienced, and all the wisdom you have.
What are your tips for healthy aging?
Image via Ashley Campbell via Flickr