Pain levels in the elderly and falls

November 24, 2009 3:23:39 PM PST
Falling is dangerous and sometimes even deadly for the elderly. And some seniors may be more at risk for falling than others. Now, a study identifies one common risk factor. Loretta and George Slover, both in their 70s, decided to get tested for balance. Both have taken falls, and Loretta also lives with chronic joint pain.

"The achiness is just very uncomfortable, so that you know you are aware of it much too much," she said. "No matter what else you are supposed to be doing."

"In our study, the most important findings were that chronic pain, whether it was measured in terms of number of locations, severity of pain or how disabling the pain was, chronic pain was associated with an increased likelihood of falling in older adults," said Dr. Suzanne Leveille, of the University of Massachusetts-Boston,

Dr. Leveille and colleagues examined 749 older adults living independently, asking them to record pain levels and when they fell. More than 1,000 falls were reported over an 18-month period.

The study is featured this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We found that people that had multi-site pain were particularly at risk," Dr. Leveille said. "They had a 50 percent increased likelihood of falling over a period of 18 months compared to their peers who had no pain."

Researchers say this is the first study looking at the complexity of pain in older adults relating specifically to falls.

"Paying closer attention to the problems such as pain and falls could result in better health and help people to continue to live actively and independently in the community," Dr. Leveille said.

"I have come to just cherish, what I've just said, getting up in my own house from my own bed, with my own sheets the way I like them, going down to my own kitchen, making coffee the way I like it at the time I want to do it," Loretta said.

Researchers urge the elderly to discuss chronic pain issues with their family and health care professionals and work out a plan to better manage their pain.