Misconceptions About the Elderly and Pain

Pain management in progress for elderly hospital patient

Misconceptions about the elderly and pain abound. It seems there's a popular thought that the elderly are more immune to pain than young people. While this is not entirely true, it can result in the elderly receiving less pain treatment than they really need.

Ageism in Society

Numerous studies over the years have shown that many people have misconceptions about the elderly because of ageism.

Similar to sexism and racism, ageism can be extremely harmful. Ageism makes it hard for most people to see the elderly as they really are. These attitudes of ageism can actually discourage older individuals from living a happy and productive life. Thus, the misconceptions sometimes become reality because ageism disconnects the elderly from the rest of their community.

It's thought that these attitudes might stem from how certain cultures place emphasis on growth, strength, progress, and conventional beauty. These are all issues a typical older adult won't be participating because they are nearing the end of life.

The Misconceptions About the Elderly and Pain

One thing ageism results in is that many people, including caregivers, view the elderly population as a weak group of people. Not receiving adequate pain relief based on misconceptions about an older individual's perception of pain is the number one issue in health care for the elderly.

Other misconception problems about the elderly and pain treatment include:

  • Socio-cultural differences can influence how a caregiver both thinks about and treats an elderly client.
  • Studies indicate that health care professionals who are older or who have had more years in health care tend to under-medicate seniors more than younger care providers with less experience.
  • Caregivers who have experienced major pain themselves will often give more sufficient pain relief than care providers who have not dealt with personal pain.
  • Communication issues can contribute to misconceptions as well. People have different communication styles based on their culture, experience, and even the era in which they grew up. When solid ways for communicating pain are lacking, it's harder to treat.

Finding Better Treatment

It's important to eliminate the misconceptions about the elderly and pain, because research indicates that the health and wellness of seniors is dependent on correct pain treatment. Too much pain can lead to elderly depression and other related issues, such as increased stress.

Progressive thoughts to correct these attitudes in pain management include:

  • The elderly population varies widely, and each individual should be considered as a unique person, not as part of a group. Individualized pain assessments and treatments are always in order.
  • Although not all seniors suffer from pain, research shows that a large majority do. Individuals should talk about their pain issues with their health care providers and caregivers.
  • Pain is rarely based on a single condition. There can be multiple sources of pain, and treatment should be adjusted accordingly.
  • Elderly individuals do have an increased risk of drug side effects. For this reason, it's important to have additional pain management resources, such as a strong social network and alternative treatments. Ironically, preventing side effects from drugs is another reason many people are undertreated for pain.

To Learn More

One of the best places to learn more about proper pain management is the International Association for the Study of Pain. They have numerous resources.

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Misconceptions About the Elderly and Pain