Many elderly persons suffer from chronic pain due to musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis, nerve damage due to diabetes or shingles, or various forms of cancer. Reports indicate that over 30 percent of people enrolled in Medicare Part D use opioid prescriptions in efforts to manage pain.
Opioids (hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, etc.) are powerful pain medications that control the perception of pain and calm emotional responses to pain by reducing the number of pain signals sent by the nervous system. Opioids are available in the form of liquid, pills, suckers, shots, skin patches and suppositories. They are effective in offering some relief to moderate to severe chronic pain, but over time, they often prove to be less effective and higher doses are required. The issue is that the higher doses often translate into a higher number of side effects.
Common side effects of opioid medications include confusion, depression, drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, light-headedness and more. These side effects can lead to an increased risk of falling and elders are at higher risk because elders do not metabolize drugs as well as younger people. This means the drugs stay in the body longer.
Aside from increasing the risk of falling, there is also the risk of addiction to opioids, if they are taken for more than a few days. Many people are simply not aware of alternatives to manage pain. Alternatives include exercise plans, acupuncture, weight loss, therapy, meditation, tai chi and yoga. It is important for anyone with chronic pain to talk with their doctor about and weigh the benefits and risks of taking opioids, and what possible alternative treatments are available to manage pain. Many doctors nationwide are now opting to stop prescribing certain opioids and instead recommending nondrug alternatives to manage pain.