When any senior medical patient suffers a severe injury or goes into surgery, it forces doctors and caretakers to evaluate the best strategy for recovery. But elderly patients, of course, can present more dramatic choices and require more nuanced care than younger, healthier patients.
In this day and age, at least one troubling issue facing the medical profession and relatives who will be asked to care for an elderly patient. The predicament in question is what to do if an elderly patient is already addicted or abusing pain medication.
The older we become, the more chronic pain we may have to endure. Arthritis may set in and become worse year after year. Old injuries nag at us. Back trouble can become severe, but not to the point that surgical intervention is required. Foot pain is common, as is aching joints. The list goes on and on.
I remember reaching age 55 and having on-and-off bursitis in my hips. I asked for pain relief, which the doctor phoned into the pharmacy. When I picked up the prescribed painkillers, I found myself holding a sizable container with 100 pills in it. My word! That never happened to me when I was younger.
The reason for this was simple. Chronic bursitis is difficult, if not impossible to treat. I was only going to get older and the problem promised to only get worse. So the doctor figured he’d just save a lot of hassle and prescribe as much painkiller as I might need. He didn’t even ask me if I had any addiction issues to speak of.
Furthermore, as a social worker, I had learned this: There are times when logical intervention is not warranted. In so many words, when a recovering addict, goes in for surgery or has a painful injury to endure, there are times when doctors will throw away the book and prescribe pain medication, despite the risk of relapse. What choice do they have? Recovering addicts should not have to endure any more pain than the rest of us, after all.
Furthermore, as prescription drug rehab center staff are aware there is a thin line between substance abuse and substance dependence. What do you prescribe to a patient who abuses drugs but does not exhibit clear signs of a drug dependency? Do you even make that distinction and under what circumstances?
It is also safe to say that relationships between medical staff and those who care for the elderly at home can become strained. A recent blog pointed out that even the most well-intended relatives can be labeled as the “family from hell” by professionals who may have different opinions on the best way to provide home care for an elderly patient.
All that said, the basic rules of care remain the same in each case. Whether you are professional or related to the patient, here are some of the basic guidelines for care:
First, do no harm
The first rule of the medical or social interventions is always to first do no harm. But this becomes complicated at times. There are times when hard choices have to be made, where there are no easy answers. Talk things out with the professional staff and family members. Use first do no harm as a guideline. Aim for that, even if it doesn’t always seem possible to accomplish that.
Take care of yourself.
Professionals know that you cannot care for others if you are not, first and foremost, taking care of yourself. You need to be strong to manage the physical, emotional, sometimes economic requirements of another human being, let alone someone who is frail or elderly. Get plenty of rest and plenty of sleep. Make sure you are not emotionally drained by what you are doing. Sleep well, eat well, exercise regularly and find someone to talk to when you need that.
Know your limits
Nobody is really Superman or Superwoman. You can’t always help; you can’t make every decision on your own; you can’t care for someone 24×7. You should know your limits physically and emotionally. Of course, the other side of this coin is to know when, where and how to call for help. Have all the necessary phone numbers handy. Keep lists of items – dietary restrictions, medication, etc. – nearby. Professionals write things down because they are not expected to remember every particular with every patient they see. Follow their example and write down things you are expected to remember.
Tell yourself “thank you” once in a while
People who are hurt and suffering do not always remember to say thank you. Being in pain forces some people to become unduly selfish. Try to understand that under better circumstances they might show their gratitude more readily. Since they might not remember to do that, find ways to thank yourself for caring for others. Pat yourself on the back. Be nice to yourself. Since you are doing many personal things for someone else, anyway, add saying thank you from them to you, to your to-do list.