Pain persists for geriatric patients long after car crashes

New study finds more than half seniors report still using pain meds 6 months after accident

WASHINGTON — Seniors injured in car crashes remain in pain for months afterwards, affecting their quality of life, including the ability to live independently, a new study finds.

The research, published in Annals of Emergency Medicine, also found that the patients who were more likely to report pain six months after the accident were also those who, when in the emergency department, were expected to require more than 30 days to recover and reported symptoms of depression.

"These findings suggest that we may be able to identify high-risk patients at the time of the emergency department evaluation and initiate therapies to prevent the transition from acute to chronic pain," lead study author Timothy Platts-Mills said.

Of study participants, 72 percent reported moderate to severe pain at the time of the emergency department evaluation. At six months, 26 percent were still reporting moderate to severe motor vehicle crash-related pain. Of patients with persistent moderate to severe pain, 73 percent had experienced a decline in their physical function and 23 percent had experienced a change in living situation in order to obtain additional help. Compared to those without persistent pain, patients with persistent pain were also twice as likely to have visited the emergency department at some point during the six months after the car crash.

After 6 months, more than half (54 percent) were still taking some type of pain reliever, and approximately 10 percent had become new daily users of opioid pain relievers.

"The types of injuries that younger people recover from relatively quickly seem to put many seniors into a negative spiral of pain and disability," Platts-Mills said. "Older adults are an important subgroup of individuals injured by motor vehicle crashes and their numbers are expected to double over the next two decades. Safe and effective management of acute pain in older adults is challenging and once pain becomes persistent, it has profound negative consequences for function and quality of life."

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