General Aches and Pains: What Seniors Should Know About Over The Counter Pain Relievers

You can be any age and experience the muscle soreness of overexertion, or even just a common headache. Older adults have more to think about before they reach for that bottle of over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. Some can be dangerous to their health.

Seniors often have to deal with the aches and pains that come with chronic health conditions, and pain management may be a daily need. They’ve likely been advised by a physician about which OTC medications are best for them. It’s a different story for the occasional headache, though. Here are some tips on what to keep in mind before reaching for that bottle in the medicine cabinets.

Generally the Safest

Geriatricians agree that acetaminophen is the safest OTC pain reliever for older adults. The non-generic name for this pain reliever is Tylenol. There’s a strong warning, though, about the amount a senior should take. It’s recommended that older adults take no more than 3,000 milligrams of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period.

This is because high doses of this OTC pain reliever are known to cause serious liver damage. Adults of any age with a history of chronic liver disease or alcohol abuse should restrict their use of acetaminophen. Many other medications – both prescribed and OTC – also contain acetaminophen, so it’s important to consider whether taking additional doses will push over the 3,000-milligram limit.

This OTC pain reliever has few side-effects for older adults, as long as you stay within the limitations.

Avoid NSAIDs

There’s a reason people use the acronym of NSAID. It’s much easier than saying “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.” NSAIDs are the most common OTC alternative to acetaminophen. (They are sold under the brand names of Advil or Aleve).

Seniors should be extremely careful when taking NSAIDS. These OTC pain relievers are known to cause harmful side-effects for older adults. These include:

  • Stomach, small bowel, or colon bleeding. Older adults already taking daily aspirin or a blood-thinner should avoid NSAIDs.
  • Stomach lining problems.
  • Interference with high blood pressure medications.
  • Fluid retention and decreased kidney function.

The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 41,000 seniors are hospitalized each year because of complications caused by taking NSAID pain relievers. Even more alarming, the organization says it’s the cause of death for more than 3,000 older adults annually.

A physician may still prescribe NSAIDs for seniors because the anti-inflammatory effects are an effective way to treat the pain caused by arthritis.

Avoid Aspirin Too

It might be the oldest and most trusted OTC pain reliever, but aspirin has many of the same negative side-effects as NSAIDS – especially in older adults.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take an OTC pain reliever to get rid of a pesky headache. For seniors and their caregivers, the safest choice is acetaminophen. Always consult a physician if more pain relief is needed.

Steering Clear of the Flu

Don’t look now, but the flu season is here. If you’re a senior or a caregiver, you’re high on the list for getting sick.

Our immune systems weaken as we get older. Caregivers often have more stress than other jobs, and that can weaken the immune system, too. There are ways to lessen the chances of catching—and passing on the flu bug. Here are some suggestions.

Get the Flu Vaccine

This advice tops just about every list of tips you’ll find on the subject. For two reasons. It lowers your risk of getting the flu in the first place, but it also decreases the severity of illness. Both reasons are advantages for seniors and their caregivers. December is not too late to get the vaccine.

Increase the Number of Times You Wash Your Hands

The flu can bring you to your knees, but turnabout is fair play. The flu virus is fragile and is no match for soap and water. How long do you need to wash your hands? It only takes about 20 seconds—or long enough to make it through 2 rounds of “Happy Birthday.”

A trip to the restroom or kitchen sink to wash your hands isn’t always practical, whether you’re a caregiver or a senior. Stock up on hand sanitizer. It’s just as effective.

Kick Up Your Cleaning Routine

Focus on areas where germs—including the flu virus—are likely to be found, such as doorknobs, light switches, and the counters in your bathroom and kitchen. Then be sure to disinfect the rags or sponges you clean these areas with.

A bleach solution is best, but you can always throw sponges in the dishwasher, or even in the microwave for 1 minute. That’s enough time to kill most bacteria and the flu virus.

Don’t Play the Hero

It’s not always practical, but you should stay away from others if you’ve got the flu. When you are around people displaying flu symptoms, avoid unnecessary contact. Most people are unaware of how often they touch their faces—and that’s one of the most common ways we introduce the flu virus to our bodies.

We also tend to forget about things like our smartphones. Make it a habit to wipe down the phone with rubbing alcohol or a sanitizing wipe—but pay careful attention not to get too much moisture on it.

And if you do come down with the flu, follow that age-old advice about getting plenty of fluids. It’s not an Old Wives Tale. Even plain water helps hydrate you, which aids the nasal passages in staying moist—which traps germs before they can enter the body.