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
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
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
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
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
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
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