Non-Pharmacological Pain Management For The Elderly

As people get older, they become more disposed to pain and chronic impairments. Oftentimes, elderly patients find that their healthcare professionals have a hard time managing their pain using a pharmacological approach. There are many barriers to effective pharmacological pain management which include opiate tolerance, abnormal pain manifestations and the physical effects of aging.

Many healthcare physicians use opiates for adults who have persistent pain. Opiates present a problem because they require a deep knowledge of opiate titration, withdraw and an understanding of how they react within the body. If prescribed incorrectly, they may end up hurting patients more than they help them.

Many healthcare professionals realize the downsides of using opiates and prescribe a non-pharmacological approach to chronic pain when it is practical. They believe that a holistic and interdisciplinary approach is better than simply prescribing medications.

It is important for healthcare professionals to properly treat pain in the elderly. If left untreated, the pain has a negative impact on their health and quality of life. This can result in depression, social isolation, anxiety, sleep disturbances and even immobility.

There are many reasons why physicians have a tough time with pain management. These include a lack of training, a reluctance to prescribe opiates and the fact that pain can be hard to assess. It is a tricky subject because of all the variables involved. What works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it can be difficult to find a decisive answer when figuring out how to treat someone.

Older adults tend to react differently to medication when compared to younger adults. It is important to realize that non-pharmacological methods may help them through their pain without the risk of adverse side-effects. As people get older, their bodies do not process medications in the same way. Their metabolisms slow down and their bodies become less efficient at excreting foreign substances. This causes many unforeseen problems and sensitivities to various medications.

There is no denying that medications can be helpful for elderly patients with pain; a problem only arises when they are presented as a person’s only option. It is important to use non-pharmacological methods for their added benefits to any treatment plan. This is especially true in the elderly due to the fact that medications are much worse for them.

What are some of the most effective non-pharmacological treatments used in pain management for the elderly?


When someone understands the source of their pain, they are a lot less likely to be bothered by it. Patient education programs help patients understand the nature of their pain and gives them assessment instruments. These instruments help the elderly communicate effectively with their physicians and takes some of the guesswork out of their jobs. When you can accurately assess your pain, your physician is more likely to give you the proper treatment.

Highly educated seniors are more likely to use coping strategies for their pain instead of opiates. This cuts down on addiction and side-effects from medications. Both one-on-one programs and group programs have been shown to be highly effective methods of pain reduction and management.

Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy

It is important to use stretching and massage therapy for patients who experience chronic pain. It is easy to forget just how effective hands-on care can be. Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy (OMT) involves the use of the hands to diagnose, prevent and treat chronic pain. Elderly patients benefit from the muscle movements in these types of therapies; they include stretching, gentle pressure and resistance.


There is a spiritual dimension to persistent pain; there is evidence to support the fact that spirituality is often effective for patients who experience chronic pain. Religious people are less likely to experience chronic fatigue or pain when compared to people who are not. Studies have shown that spirituality is a great coping method. It does not matter what denomination the person is; just that they use these positive coping mechanisms.


There have been many studies done on hypnosis; they show that hypnotic suggestion does change brain activity. These studies show that certain aspects of pain can be reduced by targeting specific areas of the brain. Hypnotic suggestion can also be used to decrease the unpleasantness of the pain that people feel.

Hypnotic suggestion speeds the time that it takes for elderly patients to heal. Quicker healing times mean that elderly patients avoid medications, save money and require less oversight by their physicians.

Music Therapy

Actively listening to music helps to stimulate the brain, changes the heartbeat and changes breathing patterns. These changes, when used for pain, can help reduce symptoms and help the elderly forget about their problems. Music also stimulates brain waves and causes them to sync with the beat. These effects have been shown to last even when a person stops listening.

Listening to slow music can help an elderly person alter their heart rate and breathing patterns. This allows them to sit back, relax and enter a calm state. This reduced tension helps to ease pain and can work for people who suffer from chronic ailments.



Aromatherapy makes use of various scents to help seniors relax, decrease pain and stress. The process uses various fragrances of flowers, herbs, oils and extracts to help patients forget about their ailments. They can be inhaled during massages, facials, baths and body wraps. Using aromatherapy helps a patient relax and soothes their pain.

When treating chronic pain, it is important for the elderly to select the least invasive, least toxic, and most effective therapy. These choices need to leave room for patient opinions and self-worth during the activity of pain relief. It is pointless to give elderly patients opiates if they make them unable to function and be happy. As people age, it is important that they are still able to keep personal contact with others. Taking opiates and withdrawing from the world can often have disastrous effects like depression, anxiety and a loss of hope.

Untreated chronic pain is a debilitating condition that many seniors experience. The pain leads to feelings of powerlessness and can wreak havoc on their lives. It is important for seniors to look towards holistic treatments instead of prescribed painkillers that are very addictive and only offer temporary relief. Healthcare professionals are starting to understand that a combination of holistic methods along with a plan that involves minimal opiates is often the best way to treat seniors who suffer from chronic pain.

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