Living with Chronic Pain
How Chronic Pain Can Impact the Quality of Life in Older Adults
Chronic pain can affect many aspects of life, such as sleep, mood and physical activity. This is especially true for older adults (>65).
Chronic pain and sleep
Individuals with chronic pain often deal with sleep issues. Frequent waking can occur after experiencing a day of heightened pain. For some individuals, the natural act of turning over in bed can cause pain. Sleep issues are especially prevalent in the older adult chronic pain population. As people age, the body’s production of melatonin naturally decreases resulting in reduced sleep. Older adults are twice as likely to report difficulty falling asleep and increased time spent in bed. Due to lack of sleep, the body is not able to properly restore energy reserves, which leads to fatigue and inactivity the next day. A vicious cycle of bad quality sleep, lower pain thresholds and the reduced ability to cope with chronic pain may result.
Chronic pain and depression
The relationship between chronic pain and depression is complex. Chronic pain can cause depression, and depression can lead to heightened chronic pain levels. Older adults are more reticent to share any experienced mental health symptoms with a health care provider, which makes diagnosis and treatment difficult. Depression can disrupt cognitive function and create a lack of concern about healthy eating, which can result in malnutrition and low energy levels.
Chronic pain and physical activity
The idea of exercise can seem counterintuitive as a pain-reduction method. However, gentle exercise can actually decrease pain levels. Because the experience of chronic pain is highly individualized, the choice of exercise should be, also. Older adults may be hesitant to exercise due to the fear of falling. Walking or warm-water exercise is often recommended for older adults.