Community Blog

Are Opioids Safe for Seniors?

By Ketan Patel

As Bette Davis famously said, getting old is not for sissies. There is no doubt that seniors can face all kinds of issues from medical conditions like debilitating pain as they age. When over-the-counter medication is not enough or is not appropriate, opioids may be prescribed for pain. However, family or an in-home caregiver may notice that seniors on opioids suffer from a range of negative side effects even as their pain subsides.

So should seniors take opioids for pain?

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of pharmaceuticals derived from the opium poppy. They relieve pain by attaching themselves to receptors of cells and reducing the pain messages that are sent to the brain, reducing the feeling of pain. Opioid pharmaceuticals include legally prescribed pain relievers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, along with codeine, morphine and others. The drug fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, and heroin, an illegal drug, is also in the opioid class.

Side Effects of Opioids

Patients may suffer a lowered heart rate and blood pressure along with slowed breathing while on opioids. The drugs often induce side effects like constipation, nausea, vomiting, memory problems and drowsiness. Taking opioids can affect your driving ability. After a while, people on opioids may find that they have developed a tolerance for the drug and need to take an increasingly higher dosage for the same pain-killing effect. Some people develop an addiction, a situation where they can’t stop taking the drug and become uninterested in activities they once enjoyed.

Seniors and Opioids

Seniors take opioids because options for pain relief become more limited as people age. Aging brings about changes in the body that can cause drugs to become more potent and act over a longer period of time. The stomach may become sensitive, and the kidneys and liver may process drugs more slowly. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories are not well tolerated by many seniors and because of negative side effects on kidney function and blood pressure. Opioids can also pose a higher risk of bleeding. Seniors may also be at greater risk for side effects of opioids due to drug interactions with other medications. Taking opioids may cause seniors to suffer from dizziness, headaches and slow reaction time leading to falls and bone fractures.

The Bottom Line

Health care professionals say that the key to prescribing opioids to seniors for pain relief is to start with a low dose, and increase it slowly and monitor the patient. Some doctors are taking a look at medical marijuana for senior pain relief in the geographic areas where it is allowed.

Hiring a Caregiver

An in-home caregiver can help your loved one with daily activities when pain becomes an issue while assisting the senior in staying on track with medication and providing transportation to doctor’s appointments. Home Helpers of South Shore is owned and operated by a compassionate health professional with a strong understanding of the needs of aging seniors. Contact Home Helpers to help your aging loved one.

Please fill out the form on the left and we will get in touch with you about setting up in-home health care, or call us at 781-585-1244 to determine the plan that is right for you.

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