Pain and Older Americans Survey

Pain and Older Americans Survey

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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The following information is reproduced with the permission of
The National Council on the Aging.

Pain and Older Americans Survey

-- Major Findings --
  • One in five Americans over age 60 takes medication to control pain that lasts for six months or more (chronic pain). This represents 18% of Americans in this age group, or 7.5 million people.

  • The majority of seniors who take pain medication believe it is effective in controlling pain. Nine in ten (89%) who take prescription pain medication say it is effective, and 85% of those who take over-the-counter pain drugs say medication is effective.

  • Two out of three older Americans who take pain medication (64%, or 4.7 million) say pain still prevents them from performing routine tasks, engaging in hobbies, or doing other activities they enjoy. Of these, 44% say pain interferes with their ability to walk, 17% say pain prevents them from accomplishing daily activities such as housework and cooking, and 14% say pain prevents them from socializing or doing hobbies such as gardening. One in three (31%) say pain prevents them from performing other non-specified activities of daily living.

  • Older Americans who take pain medication are more likely to suffer from arthritis (44%), bone and joint pain (31%), and low back pain (16%) than any other type of pain condition.

  • The most commonly used prescription medication for treating the leading causes of pain (arthritis, bone and joint pain, and low back pain) was non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, e.g., ibuprofen and naproxen). 18% of survey respondents took NSAIDs to treat their pain, while 10% took propoxyphenes, 5% took codeine derivatives (e.g. hydrocodone), and another 5% took codeine combined with aspirin or acetaminophen.

  • More than seven in ten seniors take over-the-counter pain relievers. These are most likely to take acetaminophen (63%), followed by non-prescription NSAIDs (37%) and aspirin (33%).

  • One in five (21%) seniors who take pain medication have also tried alternative pain therapy, such as relaxation therapy, herbal remedies, or TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation).

  • One in four (26%) seniors who takes pain drugs experiences side effects caused by the medication. Of these, half say side effects are severe. One in ten say they have been hospitalized as a result.

  • The most common side effects experienced by older people who take pain drugs are drowsiness (20%), dizziness (18%), and indigestion or gastrointestinal disorders (17%). Other common side effects of pain medication are nausea/vomiting/diarrhea (13%), and constipation (12%).

  • More than one in ten seniors who take NSAIDs have ulcers (13%), and 4% are hospitalized because of side effects caused by their pain drug. Among those who have side effects stemming from non-prescription NSAIDs, 7% are hospitalized.

  • Seniors who take prescription pain drugs are likely to do so for a long period of time. Six in ten who use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) take them for six months or more despite warnings against long-term use.

  • Seniors are likely to take non-prescription pain medication far longer. On average, seniors who take acetaminophen, over-the-counter NSAIDs, and aspirin take them for five years. Fifteen percent take them for more than 20 years. A majority (68%) who take non-prescription pain relievers take them either daily, or several times a week.

  • Six in ten (58%) seniors who take pain drugs also take medication for non-pain-related medical disorders. Of these, nearly half (47%) take medication to manage high blood pressure.

  • Half of seniors surveyed (48%, or 3.5 million) say doctors don't tell them about possible harmful interactions between pain drugs and other medications they take. Four in ten seniors (37%, or 2.7 million) say doctors don't discuss the potential side effects of the pain drugs they prescribe or recommend.

  • Americans over 60 who take pain drugs are most likely to consult at least three different doctors about their pain conditions. Eight in ten (79%) see primary care physicians, compared to 17% who see orthopedists, 9% who see rheumatalogists, and 6% who see neurologists.

The Pain & Older Americans Survey was conducted by Louis Harris and Associates, Inc. on behalf of The National Council of the Aging, Inc. It is a survey of a national cross-section of 500 randomly selected Americans over age 60 who regularly take pain medication prescribed or recommended by a doctor for pain medications lasting six months or longer. The survey was underwritten by an educational grant from Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical.


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