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.

Why Preparing For A Hospital Discharge Is Key To Ongoing Recovery

Sure, it’s a reason to celebrate when you get the news that you’re being discharged from the hospital. But, there are important steps seniors should take if they want to stay out and get better. A recent Medicare survey shows that 18% of patients over the age of 65 discharged from a hospital are readmitted within the next 30 days. 

Preparing for a successful hospital discharge can reduce the possibility of this, and much of it can happen before even leaving the hospital. Here’s what you need to know.

What a Discharge Means

We tend to think of this as an end state, but really, it’s more of a continuation. When you’re discharged from the hospital, it simply means that your doctor has determined that you’ve recovered enough to no longer need hospital-level care. It does not mean that you are fully recovered.

In many cases—especially with older adults—it means you may still need extra or specialized care. You may need this for weeks or even months to come.

Participating in the Hospital Discharge

Your physician and a hospital discharge nurse determine when you can leave the hospital. It’s not an accusation, but rather an observation. These professionals are extremely busy. It’s not that they are unwilling to spend enough time with you to make sure you understand everything you need to know about post-hospital recovery. They often assume that you are aware of what’s necessary.

This is why it’s important for both caretakers and senior patients themselves to be advocates in the process. Make sure you have all the necessary information you need—and that all of your concerns have been answered—before you leave the hospital.

To help you with this Medicare has created an extremely helpful hospital discharge checklist. Download it here. This checklist is an important tool because it provides you with the key questions to ask about follow-up care, medication, equipment and supplies, and even problems to watch for. These are all questions you must have satisfactory answers for before a senior patient leaves the hospital.

And, you really do want to get this information prior to discharge. It can be much more difficult to get helpful answers afterwards.

The discharge checklist helps both caregivers and senior patients understand what’s necessary for a successful recovery. It’s a partnership between caregiver and patient. Think of it as a handoff. The medical professionals at the hospital have started the process that gets you back to wellness. Now, it’s your turn to keep the process going.