from Hospice of Michigan
Contrary to what many may believe, pain does not have to be part of a loved one’s natural aging process or chronic illness, and no one should experience pain at the end of life. September’s designation as National Pain Awareness Month is an opportunity for caregivers to better understand, and help alleviate, their loved one’s physical, emotional and spiritual discomfort.
Palliative care offers comfort and improved quality of life to patients and families by identifying and managing pain and other distressing symptoms such as nausea, and shortness of breath. It differs from hospice care in that palliative care can be provided at the same time as curative treatment and is appropriate for people of any age with uncontrolled pain or symptoms, at any stage of an illness.
Uncontrolled pain can lead to needless suffering, poor sleep, urinary retention, limited mobility or breathing, fear or anxiety. Individuals experiencing pain may say they are fine when they are not since pain awareness varies across cultures, genders and beliefs. Some people are very vocal about their pain and desire pain relief. Others think they need to be tough and refuse to acknowledge their pain. Some people believe pain is a way to atone for sins or is part of the aging process. Many believe that they will become ‘addicted’ to pain pills, or fear being overmedicated.
“Physical pain can be made worse by emotional or spiritual pain, and that distress can make it more difficult to achieve comfort,” said Michael Paletta MD, FAAHPM, Hospice of Michigan vice president, medical affairs and chief medical officer. “Patients and caregivers alike often fail to recognize emotional and spiritual pain. Overlooking or ignoring signs of such distress does nothing to improve quality of life or patient care. Those experiencing chronic pain should always seek help, while others should be vigilant for signs of physical, emotional and spiritual pain within their loved ones.”
Everyone’s experience with pain is different. There is no test or X-ray to measure pain. For those who find it difficult to vocalize or admit their pain, family and friends can look for such signs as grimacing, restlessness, irritability, mood swings, wringing of hands, teeth grinding, moaning, sleep disturbance, poor concentration or decreased activity. Keeping track of a loved one’s pain occurrences, the level and type of pain and when medication was taken, can help clinicians prescribe the proper course of palliative care treatment.
And, while it can be difficult for family and friends to see a loved one in pain, they often suffer, too. Pain may cause a strain on the relationship, frustrations and/or anger. Caregivers often have the added daily stress of increased responsibility for maintaining the home on top of caregiving responsibilities. They may also have to endure emotional outbursts from the patient in pain. Family life may become constricted; communication, activities and interactions amongst family and friends may center on pain. The family’s social life may suffer and individuals may become progressively isolated from friends and the community.
Pain not only takes a physical toll on a patient, but an emotional and spiritual toll as well. Hospice of Michigan spiritual care coordinators and social workers relieve emotional and spiritual distress by identifying concerns, offering expert advice, a listening ear, and meeting patient and family member goals.
When traditional pain relief methods are not enough, enjoying music and art, a relaxing massage and the companionship of a pet can help a loved one maximize comfort and quality of life. Introducing music, art, massage and pet interactions alongside medical interventions and counseling provides patients with a holistic plan of care. Such “life’s pleasures” help patients control symptoms, manage stress and relieve anxiety.
Hospice of Michigan clinicians educate patients and families on the many types of pain management, always mindful of a patient’s wishes and beliefs in developing a course of treatment.
September’s designation as National Pain Awareness Month is a great reminder for everyone who deals with pain – patients, caregivers and clinicians – that pain should never be tolerated. The care teams at Hospice of Michigan are dedicated to identifying and relieving pain of all types – physical, emotional and spiritual.