New research demonstrates that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain and anxiety in geriatric or elderly people. Acupuncture research has focused extensively on the effects of acupuncture on body pain, fertility and anxiety; however, few studies have focused specifically on the elderly.
This new acupuncture study, “Acceptability of an acupuncture intervention for geriatric chronic pain: an open pilot study” (Jan 2013) found acupuncture is an effective and acceptable treatment for elderly who suffer from chronic pain.
This research is important news for practitioners, patients and caregivers. There are serious and well-documented consequences to overusing painkillers. Acupuncture has minimal side effects making it a safe, effective option for the elderly.
The study researched specifically the acceptability and effectiveness of acupuncture for persistent musculoskeletal pain in the elderly and assessed the conditions for a future controlled trial.
The study indicated that community surveys consistently find chronic pain present in nearly one third of the elderly population. More specifically, the prevalence of pain in residents of long-term care facilities ranges from 49% to 83% according to different studies. Although chronic pain can be severe enough to limit everyday activity and mobility, this pain is often underestimated. Older people with dementia are at particular risk of poor pain control. Indeed, their difficulties with communication make them less able to report pain and make it more difficult for their attendants to assess their pain properly.
The acupuncture study focused on patients suffering from chronic musculoskeletal pain for more than three months, with an expected length of hospitalization of more than 10 weeks. The recruitment process took place every six weeks in each of the three geriatric services (seven sessions in total). All eligible participants were given information to obtain their informed consent. A maximum of 12 patients were treated at one time.
A total of 60 patients, hospitalized in a geriatric hospital, were enrolled. The intervention consisted of eight acupuncture sessions. The main outcome was the patient’s participation rate. Regarding pain, the evaluation was based on pre- and post-treatment variations. As a high proportion of the patients had cognitive impairment, the behavioral pain scale DOLOPLUS-2 was chosen although self-evaluation was used wherever possible.
The mean age of the patients was 83 years. The acceptance rate was very high (89.6%), and 90% of the patients completed the entire course of treatment. After five weeks, the mean DOLOPLUS score had decreased significantly. The patients reported improved sleep quality and a reduction in their anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, caregivers noticed a decrease in patient aggressiveness making care easier.
The study results suggest that acupuncture is highly acceptable and could be useful in the management of chronic pain when performed in very old frail people with chronic physical and mental disability.