Purpose of review
Chronic noncancer pain is an increasing problem in elderly because of rising life expectancy together with an increase of potentially painful medical conditions. Concomitantly, adequate treatment of elderly is often limited by coexisting diseases and polypharmacy.This review summarizes the most important specifics presented by elderly patients and discusses the pharmacological and nonpharmacological options of pain management.
A comprehensive pain assessment is a prerequisite for effective pain management. However, this can be a major challenge in patients who are unable to communicate adequately, that is, in patients with dementia. A recently developed electronic tool assessing automated facial expression and clinical behavioral indicators may help to solve this problem. The discussion about benefits and harms of opioids in elderly goes on. Although some authors underline the lack of efficacy together with the potential problems, such as, abuse, others report a beneficial effect in terms of pain relief, functional activities and disability. In addition, opioids have become an important treatment option in patients with restless legs syndrome. Various topical treatment options (i.e. capsaicin patch) and nonpharmacological interventions have been proven to be beneficial in elderly.
Adequate pain management of elderly patients constitutes numerous pharmacological options including nonopioids, opioids, coanalgesics and topical agents. Due to age-related characteristics, all systemic analgesics have to be given very cautiously ('start low, go slow’). Whenever possible, treatment should be performed as a multimodal approach based on the biopsychosocial model of chronic pain.