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Newsletter: November 2011

Do you know that one in five elderly Singaporeans above the age of 65 is actually living with chronic pain on a daily basis? According to TODAY,  pain specialist Dr Tan Kian Hian, director of the Pain Management Centre at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) reported that many seniors keep mum about their chronic pain conditions without seeking proper treatments.

Mrs Gloria Lee used to be one of them. The active 85-year-old suffered severe neck pain for weeks before she finally saw a doctor. It left her incapable of  simple movements such as sitting, standing or doing anything properly. Her peers simply attributed it to aging and told her to live with it and the pain soon overwhelmed her, impeding her ability to perform her daily activities and affecting her mood.

“Chronic pain is more prevalent in the elderly though it should not be deemed as the ‘normal process of ageing’. Patients are advised to seek treatment and not assume that nothing can be done about it as early treatment may prevent the pain from getting worse,” Dr Tan said.

Furthermore, Dr Tan also mentioned that chronic pain is fast becoming a disease, instead of a symptom. This pain may even “lead to brain or spine physiological and anatomical changes”. For instance, chronic pain patients often end up depressed. Likewise for the reverse, the depressed tend to report a higher incidence of such pain.

Because chronic pain is often linked to more problematic underlying medical conditions such as degeneration of the spine, diabetes, arthritis and infections, Dr Tan also advised seeking proper treatments of those conditions before managing pain.

There is no reason for anyone to reject a chance at a better quality of life, even for older adults.

After seeking her first treatment for her chronic neck pain at SGH’s pain management clinic, Mrs Lee never looked back. She currently goes for physiotherapy thrice weekly on top of the pain medication prescribed to her.

“My mood has improved now that I am managing my neck pain,” she said.Chronic pain MYTHS

1. I’m in pain, so I should be in bed. 

Dr Tan: That’s not the best thing to do. The general advice for most patients with chronic pain is that they should continue to be active in their life.

2. Chronic pain is all in the head. 

Dr Tan: “All in the head” suggests that the pain is imaginary, which is not the case. However, we do know that a positive attitude and appropriate psychological interventions can help patients manage their chronic pain.

3. Only old people get all sorts of aches and pains. 

Dr Tan: Young and seemingly healthy people may have chronic pain too. In fact, about 8.7 per cent of Singapore’s population suffer from it. However, older and less healthy people may have a higher probability of having chronic pain. For example, with age, degeneration of the joints and back may lead to chronic pain. People with diabetes who do not have good control of blood sugar levels may also have increased incidence of nerve pain.

4. Alternative therapies like acupuncture, massages and meditation can help ease pain.

Dr Tan: Maybe. There is some evidence that acupuncture can be effective for neck and back pain. Massages can have therapeutic effect accompanied with a sense of well-being but this effect is usually short term.

Meditation can be useful in one of the multi-modal approach to pain management. These therapies should not be used as a substitute but they serve as a good complement to conventional treatment in pain management.

Image Disease photo created by freepik –