By Elsie Weekes
(Delivered at CBAC’s January 24, 2019 Community Lunch)
How many of us have experienced pain within the last year and was told not to worry that it is due to aging? I believe that a lot of us have received this answer. I am here to let you know that I denounce the notion that pain in the elderly is solely a part of the aging process.
I believe that pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is inherently wrong.
Is pain always an indication that something is incurable or that something requires emergency care? No. I, however, cannot be certain until I seek answers from a qualified individual.
Some conditions have a simple fix so why suffer unnecessarily. Some conditions, if untreated, can evolve into life -threatening situations.
We need to be vigilant when it comes to our bodies; in other words, we have to take control of our health. Do not dismiss your pain.
This means that we need to use the resources that are available to us such as family physicians, CLSC etc. We need to seek help sooner rather than later. Time can be our worst enemy because we have a tendency to “wait it out” …referring to the pain. It is a balance but always err on the side of caution.
Here are a few examples:
1) Deep Vein Thrombus is a clot in an arm or leg due to sluggish circulation due to immobility because of an extended flight or simply aging among other things. This condition can cause signs and symptoms, pain is included. Should this clot go untreated, the clot can detach and travel to the lungs creating severe pain in the chest including other life-threatening signs and symptoms. A problem which could have been treated in a primary stage has now led to a pulmonary embolism.
2) Diabetes Type 2: people with this condition have to be very careful of abrasions and cuts. Whenever the skin is broken, attention has to be paid to healing of that area to prevent possible infection. Should infection set in, signs and symptoms including pain will ensue. Should this problem go untreated, it can lead to death of the tissue…necrosis. Diabetes affects the elderly and a large percentage of the Black population
3) Multiple Myeloma: a form of cancer that affects the bone marrow. This cancer makes up less than two percent of all the cancers but affects more than twice the amount of elderly Blacks than Whites. Signs and symptoms include pain at the site of the tumour usually found at the spinal cord creating back pain. Multiple Myeloma is incurable, but you can control the pain
4) Myocardial infarction: The problem with this condition is that it is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether the chest pain is due to indigestion or strictly cardiac. Chest pain can be mild therefore causing you to overlook or dismiss the pain. Back pain is an atypical symptom of myocardial infarction in women
These conditions are presented to show pain in the elderly in different scenarios; the point is to show that in scenario #1: ignoring pain in an extremity (limb) can lead to a life-threatening situation
Scenario #2: ignoring pain can lead to a loss of a digit or limb
Scenario #3: despite the fact that this condition is incurable, you can discuss a plan where your pain can be controlled offering you a comfortable life
Scenario #4: again, ignoring pain can lead to possible death
It is extremely important to pay attention to your pain. Family members and friends mean well but unless they have medical training, unless that person can ask the pertinent questions, you need to seek help from a professional. The sooner you can get to the appropriate environment, the better your chance of dealing with your pain.
There are many ways of dealing with your pain. Some people choose to use: “over the counter medications”
It is not my place to tell you how to deal with your pain. My job is to tell you that it makes sense to pay attention to your pain. Why suffer if you can have your pain assessed? This allows you now to move forward because you are armed with the necessary information. The decision gives you options. Doing nothing is an option but you are aware of your body’s status.
Apparently, there is a culture in the Black Community that does not promote discussion about what ails you or seeking out a physician. This must change if we want to extend our life expectancy and make the second act of our lives our best act…yet.
Elsie Weekes is a retired nurse and Board Secretary of The Council for Black Aging Community of Montreal.