National Care Planning Council
National Care Planning Council

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Books for Care Planning

    Long Term Care BooksFind books provided by the National Care Planning Council written to help the public plan for Long Term Care. Learn More...

Eldercare Articles

    Eldercare ArticlesThe NCPC publishes periodic articles under the title "Planning for Eldercare". Each article is written to help families recognize the need for long term care planning and to help implement that planning. All elderly people, regardless of current health, should have a long term care plan. Learn More...

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Guide to LTC Planning

    Guide to Long Term Care PlanningFrom its inception, the goal of the National Care Planning Council has been to educate the public on the importance of planning for long term care. With that goal in mind, we have created the largest and most comprehensive source of long term care planning material available anywhere. This material -- "Guide to Long Term Care Planning" -- is free to the public for downloading and printing on all of our web sites. Learn More...

Dealing with Pain

Dealing with Pain

Pain management is the process of bringing pain under control. Pain can be a problem with many people at the end of life. Persistent pain can accelerate the decline in health due to lack of appetite, poor nutrition, depression, lack of social stimulation and lack of exercise. And persistent pain becomes a form of disability, interfering in the ability to perform common daily tasks. Here is a list of problems that pain causes to one's self or to others:

  • It is difficult to sleep
  • It is difficult or impossible to pursue hobbies or personal activities
  • Exhaustion can become a constant companion
  • Depression is a very likely outcome
  • There is little desire to eat
  • It is difficult to enjoy the companionship of one's family
  • There is reluctance to move about or exercise
  • The patient and the caregiver become more isolated from the community because of the disability

Family and friends who are caregivers become exhausted because of constant worry.

Chronic pain is a problem most often experienced by terminal patients who are dying from cancer. But non-cancer patients at the end of life may have other pain-causing conditions in addition to their terminal illness. This may be caused by such conditions as neuropathies, chronic back disorders, muscle pain or arthritis.

Chronic or ongoing pain only adds to the suffering of a critically ill person. If the pain can be brought under control, a seriously ill patient can have a better quality of life for the remaining time available to him or her. Constant pain can also bring on depression which in turn could lead to suicide. Many people who cannot endure chronic pain take their own lives or seek out assisted suicide. Pain management may be a better alternative than suicide, not so much for the patient but more for the family. If a loved one takes his or her life, that can produce a permanent scar of shame or guilt within the family.

A major problem with persistent or chronic pain is that allowed to go on without treatment, the pain can become harder to treat. Research indicates that, over time, stimulation from persistent pain produces neural pathways in the brain that increase the intensity of the pain. In addition, pain receptors in the skin that are normally inert, may start transmitting sympathetic pain signals making the patient even more miserable. This can create a condition where a mere breeze or the wearing of clothing can be excruciatingly painful. Taking a pain pill occasionally as needed is not an effective treatment. Initially, it takes large doses of pain medication, on a regular schedule to bring the situation under control. Once the pain is under control, it is easier to maintain with continued lower doses of medication.

Sometimes people refuse to take strong pain medicine on a regular basis fearing dependency. But knowing that persistent pain itself becomes addictive should be incentive enough for people to seek treatment. Which is worse, addictive pain or reliance on medication? It is important to seek professional help with pain management and to establish an ongoing daily program to keep it under control. There are also numerous other non-drug techniques being developed for controlling chronic pain. Some of these might involve mind control techniques, acupuncture, electrical nerve intervention, massage or a host of other holistic approaches.

It is not necessary to refuse pain management because of a desire to display courage in dealing with terminal illness. A person is not a complainer because he or she admits to having pain. It is important to remember that caregivers are also susceptible to the stress of pain in their loved ones. The constant worry to the caregiver from ongoing suffering with the loved one will adversely affect the physical and emotional health of the caregiver. If not for themselves, persons experiencing persistent pain should seek their own treatment out of consideration for others who are concerned about their welfare.

The most common line of treatment in pain management is the use of medications. Here is a list of medications commonly used with three levels of pain.

1. Mild pain - For mild cancer pain, acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as ibruprofen, are often used.

2. Mild to Moderate Pain - For mild to moderate cancer pain, when pain relief is not achieved with acetaminophen or NSAID medications, opioid medications are often used, usually as combination tablets with NSAIDs or acetaminophen. Some of the opioid medications used as combination products are hydrocodone, codeine, or oxycodone. Adjuvant medications may also be used for pain that is difficult to manage. Adjuvants are medications that were originally designed to treat conditions other than pain, such as tricyclic antidepressants.

3. Moderate to Severe Pain - Moderate to severe pain is usually best treated with higher doses of opioid medications often not given as combination products. Adjuvant medications, NSAIDs, and acetaminophen may also be used. The opioid medications used to treat moderate to severe pain include morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydromorphone.

If the attending physician does not seem to know much about pain management or is unwilling to provide a referral to a pain clinic, the patient or caregiver need to take matters into their own hands to bring the situation under control. Referral from a friend or a listing online can lead to specialists who can help.