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Pain (PDQ®)

Treating Pain in Older Patients

Older patients with cancer pain may have special needs.

Some problems are more likely in older patients. For caregivers of older patients, the following possible problems should be kept in mind:

Having more than one chronic disease and source of pain

Older patients may have more than one chronic disease and take several drugs for different conditions. This can increase the risk of drug interactions. Drugs taken together can change how they work in the body and can affect the patient's chronic diseases.

Problems with vision, hearing, movement, or ability to communicate

Older patients may need simpler and more frequent tests to find out how much pain they are having.

Side effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Side effects of NSAIDs, such as stomach and kidney damage, memory problems, constipation, and headaches, are more likely in older patients.

Effects of opioids

Older patients may be more sensitive to the effects of opioids. This can give better pain relief that lasts longer. The dose of the opioids may need to be adjusted.

Patient-controlled pain relief

Patient-controlled pain relief must be used carefully in older patients, since drugs are slower to leave the body and older patients are more sensitive to the side effects.

Changes in living arrangements

When older patients move (for example, from hospital to home or nursing home), their needs for pain control may change. These needs should be checked so that pain control methods can be adjusted if needed.

  • Updated: April 10, 2014