Pain is the result of injury. When one experiences pain (and/or illness) over an extended period of time it becomes what is termed “chronic”.
Chronic pain affects 100 million people in the United States and 20-30% of persons worldwide (NIH 2014). The effects of protracted pain can be devastating; it has been linked to depression, which can decrease immune response, affect appetite, decrease energy, increase mood swings and cause negligence of personal hygiene, among other effects.
Various types of chronic illness can be a precursor to depression, such as: diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease and others. After most major surgeries, including open heart procedures, an anti-depressant is often prescribed (American Heart Assn, 2015). As a result of the prevalence of depression, the Geriatric Depression Scale was developed to help physicians evaluate the mental health of older patients. In addition to depression if one also suffers from chronic, excruciating pain, it is difficult to think clearly, make important decision or to even focus on ordinary tasks like cooking.
The management of chronic pain is essential to help circumvent the onslaught of depression that may accompany it. There are different schools of thought, and you should discuss these with your physician. Since 2007 opioid use for pain management has increased by 32% among seniors over 60 and the side effects can be worrisome. Disturbingly, there was a scandal implicating the American Geriatric Association which apparently advised physicians to prescribe LESS of over the counter medications such as Motrin and Tylenol and more of opioid based drugs; subsequently it was determined that some members of the advisory board had ties to drug companies.(Milwaukee/Wisconsin Sentinel 2009)
Drugs that contain oxycodone and codeine based medications may be addictive if not used within proper limits and this should be taken into account when discussing pain management with your doctor.
Before being prescribed a controlled narcotic for pain, ask these questions:
Is there another non-drug or OTC (over-the-counter) alternative?
What are the side effects?
Is this drug addictive? Are there withdrawal effects?
Is the drug taken with or without food?
How long should I remain on the medication befroe re-evaluation?
Of course, depending on your condition strong pain meds may indeed be indicated. However, if you experience side effects that include dizziness, nausea, vomiting , blurred vision or memory loss – pain abatement may not outweigh these effects and you must discuss this with your doctor.
It is also important to understand that when you have chronic pain or illness that although you THINK you can render rational and informed decisions, you may be impaired. Always endeavor to have “another set of ears and eyes” accompany and intercede for you when necessary for both important medical and financial decisions. Unfortunately, there are those who prey on the physical and emotional weaknesses of seniors and who will attempt to “scam” you because they believe you are an easy target. When you have an advocate with you – this demonstrates to a potential financial or health care predator that you are not an easy victim and cannot be bullied. You need a trusted friend or family member who is reasonably objective to help you evaluate issues that affect your well-being.
Physical health and recovery are closely intertwined with emotional health. I often speak of the “medicine of laughter”. When you feel emotionally isolated one of the best things you can do is to take a walk or invite a friend over to share a meal. Enjoy nature, play cards with friends, argue about politics!! When you go to the bank give the teller a warm “hello!”, offer a smile to your neighbor and inquire about his/her day and really listen; volunteer at a local non-profit organization. If you have pressing emotional issues find someone to speak to, a pastor, a friend or a relative – don’t suppress your feelings; don’t keep them to yourself.
Depression can be very dangerous if left untreated. Extreme depression can sometimes lead to thoughts of suicide (WebMD 2015) some indicators:
A sudden, dramatic, sense of calmness
Speaking often about death; how they would rather be “gone”.
Loss of interest in daily activities
Putting affairs in order
Helplessness about life
Never discount when someone threatens or speaks of suicide; this is a serious mental health issue and the person desperately needs professional intervention.
If you or someone you care for is in immediate and dire need of mental health assistance please call 911 or bring them to the nearest hospital emergency room.
If you suspect a potential overdose of an opioid containing drug call the Poison Control Hotline 24 hrs/ days a week at 1-800-222-1222 or call 911.
If you are considering harming yourself please call The National Suicide Hotline (National Institutes of Health) 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a compassionate and trained counselor.
Remember – do not suffer in silence and do not stay isolated.
Be sure to watch Sharon’s Full Body and Fitness Workout on: MATV, Malden; CATV Cambridge; BATV, Brookline; BNN, Boston and WMC, Wellesley. Check respective websites for programming information

Remember to take care of yourself and…

Stay Healthy!!

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