Most people look forward to the golden years, but after age 75 many medical issues arise that can compromise quality of life. Philip E. Kolski, LCSW, program manager of outpatient services at Mills-Peninsula’s Behavioral Health Services Center sees many seniors struggling to manage chronic pain which prevents them from living the life they want.
“Joint and back pain is especially prevalent among seniors,” he says.
According to the National Institutes of Health, about half of older Americans living on their own have chronic pain. Typically, to manage this pain, doctors prescribe opioid pain medications.
“When these medications are taken over time, people can develop a tolerance for the medication,” Kolski says. “When that happens, either their dosage has to increase, they have to find an alternate way of coping with the pain such as acupuncture, or they have to stop taking the medication, go through withdrawal and start a new opiate.”
While developing a tolerance for a pain medication is concerning, Kolski draws a distinction between being chemically dependent on a medication and addictive behavior. “Many people become dependent on opiate medication, but if they take the medication as prescribed, it’s not a problem,” he says.
How can you tell the difference between being dependent on a medication to manage pain and being addicted? According to Kolski, patients who have developed an addiction don’t adhere to a prescription. They take more medication to relax or ease anxiety. This can occur at any age, and seniors tend to have certain risk factors that increase the odds addiction may happen to them.