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Role of Occupational Therapy in Addressing Pain Management In Older Adults

Occupational therapists (OTs) work with older adults to promote function and independence in daily activities, including managing pain.

Varun Verma
Written by: Varun VermaUpdated at: Mar 13, 2023 15:28 IST
Role of Occupational Therapy in Addressing Pain Management In Older Adults

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Pain is a sensation of distress occurring physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Pain in the elderly causes greater functional impairment falls, depression, decreased appetite, impaired sleep, and social isolation. Occupational therapy is essential in addressing pain management in older adults by utilising a holistic approach that addresses physical and psychosocial factors that contribute to pain. Occupational therapists (OTs) work with older adults to promote function and independence in daily activities, including managing pain. Dr Mohd Bilal Ahmed, Occupational Therapist, Masters of Occupational Therapy (Neurology), 1323 Gali Kar Khaney Wali Tilak Bazar, Delhi, explains the role of occupational therapy in addressing pain management in older adults.

Myths About Pain In The Elderly

Dr Bilal stated some myths about pain in the elderly. For example, pain is a normal part of ageing. Pain sensitivity and perception decrease with ageing if patients do not complain of pain and do not have pain.

Pain management is a crucial element to deter limitations in functioning, deconditioning, and worsening health status. Uncontrolled pain is more likely to lead to poorer quality of life, depression, worry, agitation, and falls, especially in women.

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Older individuals are more likely to develop pain-causing conditions and illnesses like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back and neck pain, diabetic polyneuropathy and post-stroke syndrome.

Factors Preventing Seniors From Getting Pain Treatment

Patient factors that may contribute to under-treatment of pain are as follows:

  • Fear of analgesics losing effect and not being effective once the pain is severe
  • Previous dismissal of pain reports by healthcare providers
  • Labelled as a weak or difficult patient or a complainer by healthcare providers
  • Cultural and/or religious beliefs
  • Factors related to the provider that could lead to inadequate pain management
  • Lack of experience evaluating and/or managing pain
  • Fear of being prescribed an opioid
  • Fear of opioid abuse when given
  • Fear of addiction
  • Fear of adverse effects from opioids, such as a higher risk of accidents and disorientation
  • The anxiety of lawsuits related to any use of narcotics

5 Ways Occupational Therapy Can Help Older Adults Manage Pain

Here are some ways that occupational therapy can help older adults manage pain.

Education: Occupational therapists can educate older adults about pain, its causes, and its management strategies. This may include teaching older adults about pain medication, exercise, relaxation techniques, and stress management.

Activity modification: Occupational therapists can work with older adults to modify daily activities to reduce pain and improve function. This may include recommending assistive devices, such as grab bars and raised toilet seats, or changing daily routines to avoid pain triggers.

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Exercise: Exercise is essential to pain management, and occupational therapists can help older adults develop safe and effective exercise programs. This may include exercises to improve strength, flexibility, endurance, and low-impact activities such as swimming or yoga.

Cognitive-behavioural therapy: Occupational therapists can also use cognitive-behavioural therapy techniques to help older adults manage pain. This may include teaching relaxation techniques, stress management, and cognitive restructuring to help older adults reframe negative thoughts about pain.

Assistive technology: Occupational therapists can recommend and train older adults to use assistive technology, such as TENS units or orthotics, to manage pain and improve function.


Overall, occupational therapy can significantly address pain management in older adults by promoting function, independence, and overall quality of life.

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