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Senior Health

Pain sensitivity and age

02/29/2008

Question:

As a person grows older, into their 50`s and above, are they more sensitive to pain?

Answer:

Older adults do not usually become more "sensitive" to pain but usually experience more pain than when they were younger for a variety of reasons.  Studies indicate that pain is a common problem for older adults with 57%-88% of people older than 65 experiencing some point in time a significant health problem that predisposes them to pain. For example, people older than 65 have increased number of chronic conditions associated with pain such as musculoskeletal pain (osteoarthritis, osteoporosis) than younger people. Back problems (higher rates in older people), diabetic neuropathy (15% older people) which increase in rate as we get older.

There is little research about changes in perception of pain as we age but pain experience can be enhanced by insomnia/fatigue, anxiety, fear, isolation, boredom, anger, sadness, and depression.

Address your pain with your primary care provider so that you may obtain appropriate assessment and treatment to manage your pain. Aging does not usually include "increased" sensitivity to pain, but pain is a common experience as we grow older. The good news is that there are many options available to assess and manage pain as we age.

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Response by:

Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN Evelyn L Fitzwater, DSN, RN
Associate Professor Emerita
Associate Director of the
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati