Persistent pain blights the lives of around 50% of people aged 65 and over.
It could be pain in the knee or hip, a sore back, or be caused by arthritis, but for many people chronic pain can be isolating and seriously affect their quality of life.
Now University of Aberdeen researchers have begun a major four year study which it is hoped will ultimately lead to new and better strategies for sufferers to self manage their pain.
Lifelong Health and Wellbeing* funded the £1.2M study known as EOPIC - Engaging with Older People in developing and designing interventions for the management of Chronic pain - which will be rolled out in phases.
The team from the University’s Centre of Academic Primary Care has begun by speaking to older people within the Aberdeen City and Shire areas who suffer from chronic pain – which is a pain that lasts longer than three months.
Researchers - who are collaborating with the University of Teesside and Glasgow Caledonian University - are also speaking to older people plus their carers who attend Aberdeen’s pain clinic.
The attitudes and approaches of GPs, primary care teams, pain clinics and older adults towards pain management in older age will be explored.
The team will also work on enhancing existing resources and developing brand new materials – these could be written, perhaps on CD or maybe web based – which will provide practical help and advice to older adults living with pain in the community.
Soundings will also be taken from sufferers as to the best and most feasible ways for delivering self help materials.
Dr Pat Schofield, Director for the Centre for Advanced Studies in Nursing within the Centre of Academic Primary Care, said: “The overall aim of the study is to achieve a deeper understanding of the consequences of ageing with chronic pain.
“Our findings will enable us to develop innovative ways in which older people have the knowledge, skills and confidence to live independently at home while self managing their pain.”
Professor Blair Smith, Professor of Primary Care Medicine at the Centre of Academic Primary Care, said: “Chronic pain can have a huge impact on sufferers’ lives and if you are an older person you may think it is just something you have to have to put up with.
“However chronic pain can affect almost every aspect of life and if you are older it can be extremely isolating as it may prevent you from doing your usual activities. It can also lead to feelings of helplessness, depression, isolation as well as disability and family breakdown.
“Our study aims to deliver more effective ways of self managing chronic pain which is a problem that will only worsen with our ageing population.”
Denise Gray, Research Fellow, added: “For the first phase of our study we want to recruit 20 men or women who are living independently in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire and who suffer from chronic pain.
“We want to recruit people with chronic pain who are living independently in the community.”
Local chronic pain sufferers who are 65 and over and who would like to get involved in the study should contact Denise Gray on 01224 559456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Chronic pain case study
Ron Marsh has lived with chronic pain for around 40 years.
The retired BT marketing manager suffers from two main sources of pain – lower back pain and pain in the feet and lower legs caused by neuropathy, or nerve damage, which is a complication of diabetes.
Ron’s back pain dates back 40 years and stems from a gardening injury which resulted in a slipped disc.
“I suffer from back pain almost daily and it can be caused by the smallest thing such as walking too far or moving the wrong way,” said the father of two who lives in Stonehaven.
“Sometimes paracetamol will sort it out but not always. It’s something I expect will just remain with me.”
Ron (68) was diagnosed with diabetes in 1994 and that was when doctors realised neuropathy was to blame for his feet and leg pains which he had been suffering from since 1988.
“Neuropathy has given me nerve damage in legs and feet which gives me a lot of pain. It’s like toothache and the pain comes and goes at random.
“It can be worse at night when you are in bed and this can disrupt your sleep
“Unfortunately the pain is very difficult to control because the drugs you get can make you drowsy so I tend to avoid them as much as possible.”
The grandfather of three, who is originally from Glasgow, is a member of the EOPIC study’s advisory board.
He welcomed the launch of the EOPIC study.
He added: “I’m very keen on seeing something done. I am sure there are methods out there that are more effective ways of treating pain, both from a health professional perspective and from the patient side who could be more involved in self managing pain
“I would also really like more done specifically to get medical professionals to accept that pain is there and needs to be treated. It is a very difficult thing for doctors to handle.”