Caregiving Tips to Support Loved Ones with Chronic Pain

Caregiving Tips to Support Loved Ones with Chronic Pain

For most of us, dealing with pain is a temporary issue. Even a significant injury has a silver lining in that you know the pain will go away when the injury heals; and in the meantime, there are medications that can control the pain you might feel.

Maybe you learned this in childhood, if you ever fell and broke a bone. The pain was intense, but three months later, it was a distant memory. We see that in action throughout our adult lives, when a bit of acetaminophen or ibuprofen calms a pounding headache or an aching back within minutes.

But sometimes, pain persists. Or it even gets worse. Dealing with pain that simply will not go away is one of the most frustrating and disheartening issues a person could face. It is both mentally and physically exhausting.

And it’s not an isolated problem. According to the CDC, well over 20% of all adults in the United States experienced chronic pain in 2021. That’s one in every five people! And about 7% of the population experienced high-impact chronic pain, which is defined as “chronic pain that results in substantial restriction to daily activities.”1

While this number focuses on all adults – which would include anyone over the age of 18 – Statista breaks it down further. Among seniors aged 65 to 84, about 30% experience chronic pain, and over the age of 85, that number jumps to over 34%.2

It makes sense that this debilitating pain is more prevalent among the elderly, as they face more chronic conditions that are a gateway to different types of pain. According to Medical News Today, studies have found that in those between the ages of 65 and 84, the top physical health issues that led to chronic pain included diabetes, kidney issues, hypertension, and a high body mass index (BMI).3

The elderly are experiencing normal consequences of the aging process, where osteoporosis, bone fractures, and other ailments that can lead to serious pain are more common.

With chronic pain, the discomfort can be relentless. It might feel as though no amount of medication will alleviate it. And if that medication does provide some relief, missing a single dose might lead to hours of agony as the body tries to get back “on top” of the pain. Sometimes the pain takes a cruel turn and even with medications, you might experience “breakthrough” pain that makes it feel as though you never took any medication at all.

Seeing someone deal with chronic pain can be a devastating experience. This can be especially true for a family caregiver, who is so accustomed to caring for the person they love in the best ways possible. To be faced with something you might not be able to “make right” can be tough. The first step in dealing with that is learning how to support them.

Ways to Support Someone in Chronic Pain

As a caregiver, you likely already provide a great deal of practical assistance. This might take the form of everything from grocery shopping to running errands to helping your loved one get dressed in the morning. Perhaps you already opted for a button alert to keep them safer when you aren’t around, or chose to provide them with aging in place home modifications to make life easier.

But supporting someone who is in serious pain can feel like a whole other side of caregiving. No matter what you do, you might find yourself entirely helpless against what they are going through. And that can be very tough to handle.

These tips may help you to better support the person you love as they deal with chronic pain.

Learn Everything You Can

Study up on pain and how it affects the body and the brain. Read about the particular condition or disease your loved one is experiencing and learn about the treatment options, how the pain medications work (or what makes them ineffective), and home remedies that might help lessen the burden. Speak to their doctor, with their permission, on ways to make life easier for them.

Listen and Offer Validation

Sometimes a person who is dealing with chronic pain – or any other sort of ongoing medical issue – might feel as though no one is really hearing their concerns anymore. They might feel as though they are “complaining too much” or “crying wolf” and so aren’t being taken seriously.

Make a point of listening to them, no matter how many times they want to talk about the pain they are in, and make it clear that you hear them – that you know they are hurting and that you are on their team, looking for solutions.

Provide Peace of Mind

This can take many forms. You can make it abundantly clear that you will be there for them, no matter what. You can provide them with a list of interventions you’ll try to help them. You can be willing to go to the doctor with them and speak on their behalf.

You can obtain an alert for the elderly that will give them the assurance that if they suffer an accident or fall, they won’t have to wait to get help. They likely have a deep fear that the pain will get worse; giving them the power to reach out for help anytime, anywhere, can help them breathe easier.

Expect the Unexpected

Chronic pain might be well-controlled for a while, and then suddenly, it’s not. This change can happen in a matter of hours. That can mean something as simple as your outing to the park is derailed; it could mean something as serious as a rush to the hospital with 10/10 pain. Be patient and flexible with your scheduling and plans, knowing that sometimes, chronic pain takes the driver’s seat.

Reassure Them

Work with them to find ways to ease the pain, whether that includes changing medications, choosing to undergo certain medical procedures or surgeries, or simply focusing more on particular types of self-care. Reassure them that there are options, and that you are right there by their side as they try to find them.

Advocate for Them

When talking with a doctor, nurse, or other health professional, be honest about the pain you see them in and how it affects them on a day-to-day basis. Be ready to work with insurance companies, doctors, and other professionals in figuring out the best ways to make sure the complex issues of pain are not ignored and are treated appropriately.

Find a Support Network

This applies to not only the person dealing with chronic pain, but it matters for you as well. You might find a support group at your local hospital – there might be a general group for those in chronic pain or a more targeted group for those who are dealing with a certain medical condition. There might be dedicated groups for caregivers, where you can ask questions and get support and advice on how to best help your loved one. And you can also opt for online communities, where everything from message boards to chat rooms to video meetings can keep you connected and supported.

Create a Pain Management Plan

What will you do if breakthrough pain comes? How will you handle the situation if an injury or accident happens that will make the pain much worse?

These are all questions you should ask the doctor who is providing care to your loved one. Having a firm plan in pace concerning the proper medications, when to give those medications, and other points about alleviating pain is vital to your loved one’s comfort and your own peace of mind.

Encourage Self-Care

It’s one thing to tell someone to do something; it’s a better thing to help them actually do it. To that end, provide your loved one with the things they need to engage in the best self-care possible. This might mean creams and lotions for aching joints and a way to easily (and gently) apply them. It might mean journaling, meditation, yoga, or whatever else they might be able to do that would create an outlet for the pain and the frustration they feel.

Self-care might also be as simple as getting more rest, eating healthier meals, taking medications on time, and keeping up with normal hygiene.

Provide Assistance with Mobility

Chronic pain can make you not want to move at all. That doesn’t bode well for the elderly, who still need to get good amounts of exercise. Providing assistance to help them get around even with chronic pain can allow them to stay healthier and independent for longer. A cane, walker, or even a wheelchair can help them stay in control of their mobility, from getting around the house to perform day-to-day activities to going out and socializing with friends and family members.

Of course, as you choose a mobility device that works for them, make sure add an addition layer of safety and security with a medical alarm. It’s a good idea to choose a medical alert system with fall detection, as this will ensure that if a fall does occur, they won’t even have to press the button – the device itself can alert the monitoring center, so a friendly voice will be ready to assist them right away. And when dealing with chronic pain, the sooner help comes, the better.

Keep Your Own Boundaries in Mind

In the midst of helping your loved one deal with chronic pain, don’t forget your own needs. Monitor your stress levels and engage in self-care as needed. Deep breathing, meditation, listening to calming music, taking a long walk, and otherwise focusing on whatever it takes to bring your heart rate down and lift your spirits up is a good thing. Keep a positive mindset and celebrate even the smallest victories.

And of course, don’t hesitate to seek out support from friends, family, dedicated support groups, and anywhere else that can ease your mind and fill your soul – this allows you to be stronger and even more supportive of those who need you most.