One in four Australians aged over 85 are living with chronic pain, government statistics show.

Carol Bennett

Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare published this month says an estimated 1.6 million people aged 45 and over experienced persistent, ongoing pain in 2016.

The report, Chronic Pain in Australia , also shows that more people are visting their GP for chronic pain management, with a 67 per cent increase in chronic pain-related visits over the last ten years.

The report says chronic pain can significantly affect a person’s ability to enjoy life and carry on with every day activities.

Older adults with chronic pain are at increased risk of falling, deteriorating mobility, and disability

AIHW Chronic Pain in Australia

“People with chronic pain may have trouble sleeping, going to work, going to school or social activities, and difficulty with physical tasks such as household chores, lifting, or exercising,” it says.

“Older adults with chronic pain are at increased risk of falling, deteriorating mobility, and disability. This can affect their ability to look after themselves independently later in life.”

Older Australians, people with disabilities and people in residential care are at higher risk of experiencing chronic pain, which is also associated with mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, and sleep disturbance.

However it says there barriers to identifying pain in older people because cognitive or communication problems caused by dementia or hearing loss.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts beyond the normal healing time of an injury or illness.

It can result from injury, surgery, musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis and back pain, or conditions like cancer, endometriosis or migraines. In some cases there is no apparent physical cause.

The vast majority of people with chronic pain also have arthritis, the report shows.

Risk factors include sedentary lifestyles, smoking and obesity.

Pain Australia CEO Carol Bennett says the data shines a light on the growing impact of pain in Australia and she seized on the report to call for action on the proposed national pain management strategy.

Ms Bennett says people living with chronic pain face limited access to treatment apart from prescription drugs and that’s why the National Strategic Action Plan for Pain Management , which is currently being considered by COAG, needs to be implemented.

According to the AIHW report, people aged over 45 which chronic pain are almost three times more likely to be prescribed pain medication, including opioids.

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