Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Pain Management Alternatives for Seniors


pain management for seniors and caregiversWhen our loved ones are prescribed pain medications, these medications are sometimes not fully effective for one reason or another. As a caregiver, you may be in the situation where the pain medication is wearing off maybe an hour or two before the next dose of medicine can be taken. Sometimes, the side-effects of these medicines are hard on a loved one’s stomach or you may feel worried about addiction if the person starts taking more than prescribed or keeps getting higher dosages prescribed. Some people have other conditions that make it difficult to take pain medicines, like liver problems or bleeding problems.

So, what can you do to help with pain when the medicines don’t seem to be enough? While these ideas are not new, they are worth trying when you feel helpless to handle a loved one’s pain.

Heat Therapy

Heating pads, hot water bottles, microwaveable pads – these are all sources of heat that help relax sore or tight muscles. Be careful not to burn the skin. Seniors often have more sensitive skin that can be harmed by heat that the rest of us may be able to tolerate. Also be careful not to apply heat to sensitive areas where there are any sores or radiation marks from cancer treatment.

Cold Therapy

Ice packs are useful for instances where there is inflammation and swelling. The general idea is to apply the cold for 10-15 minutes, then take a break for 10 or 15 minutes – then re-apply until the swelling goes down.

Positioning and Pillows

Often, with bed sores, back pain, or other types of injuries, a slight adjustment every 30-45 minutes can make a real difference, especially for those with serious mobility limitations. The use of pillows to prop legs or arms in different positions can also help.


When people have nothing to do, it is common to focus on bodily sensations. Try giving your loved one some tasks, puzzles, etc. - something challenging enough to take their mind off of their pain. You can also consider regular visitors or activities during those times when the pain medication is wearing down to distract the person enough to wait for the next dose.

Laughter, Exercise, and Cussing

Some people think that when we laugh, we release endorphins, which are our body’s natural pain killers. Consider finding good comedies that your loved one would like. Now, it is so easy to find almost any program ever recorded on cable, CD or through programs like Netflix.

Likewise, endorphins are released when people cuss. While cussing may not always be desired, if a person is in a lot of pain, it could be recommended that they shout about it from time to time to release that energy.

Routine exercises can also help generally produce a sense of well-being through the release of endorphins - if the person is able to do some exercises. Always check with a physician before starting a new exercise program for your loved one – particularly if the person has chronic conditions or is frail in any way.


Some types of pain can be relieved with massage. It would be wise to find an RN, physical therapist, or other health professional who could spend some time helping you do it correctly. Often, the medical professionals you work with already do know of great techniques to help deal with pain (like massage) and will help come up with a routine if you ask. As with exercise, you should speak with your loved one’s physician for advise before beginning a new massage routine.

While these things will not eliminate pain, they can help you get through the day. Often, one of the hardest parts about caregiving is watching someone you love suffer and not having many things you can do to help. Talk with your loved one’s care team about this article and ask if they have ideas for home management of pain. Having a plan and some options can make a real difference.


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