Study Finds Elderly Patients Receive Less Pain Meds During ER Visits

Tuesday March 27, 2012

Whether or not you receive proper pain medication during an emergency room visit may all depend on your age. A new study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has determined that the elderly people who go to the emergency room are less likely to receive pain medication as compared to younger people who arrive at the emergency room suffering from the same ailment.

The seven year study found that 49 percent of ER patients over the age of 75 were given pain medication compared to 65 percent of ER patients under the age of 75. The study did not include patients who were cognitively impaired or unable to tell medical staff that they were in pain.

The reasons for the disparity are not clear but researchers suggest that emergency room physicians are more cautious about giving pain medication to elderly patients because of the adverse effects pain medications can have on older people. Many elderly people suffer from liver or renal disease, which weakens their ability to metabolize certain drugs.

The study also found that emergency room personnel are more concerned with diagnosing an elderly patient’s condition and less concerned with relieving his or her pain. While there are side effects of pain medications, doctors can still provide pain relief for elderly patients by using appropriate medications or reducing the dose, said Dr. Timothy Platts-Mills, lead author of the study. Pain medications can also have additional health benefits which include preserving mobility and function, which can be critical for elderly patients.

Elderly patients visiting the emergency room are encouraged to bring a list of their medications so medical staff can see if any of their routine medications may interact with what they receive during their visit. It is also helpful for elderly patients to have someone with them who can explain what meds they are on and what pain problems they currently have if they are unable to do so themselves. This will help hospital staff feel more at ease with dispensing pain meds to these patients.

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