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Planning Retirement Online

Guide to living with ill health in later life

Part 4 - Managing Tests, Treatments and Pain

Your rights

The NHS may be encouraging us into self care but we do still need professional help. Sadly some care (but not all) in the NHS has been much criticised and subject to scrutiny and review of late. Hopefully you will have had positive experiences to contradict the bad press. Whether you are in the private care system or receiving treatment through the NHS, you have a right to ensure that you are treated with respect and dignity, and your preferences listened to. Decisions should never be made on grounds of age and always take into account your personal circumstances.

Tests Results

Man talking to doctorHaving tests or scans and waiting for the results is an anxious time. You have a right to know what the procedure will involve, why the tests are being done, when and how you will get the results, and whether your consultant or someone else will tell you the results.

Understanding Treatment Options

Guide to Ill Health - links

Obviously when you first get a diagnosis you will have questions about treatments and alternative options, side effects, additional support and how your condition can be expected to develop or be cleared.

When you are going to get results or discuss treatment options bear in mind it might be difficult to remember all the information. No matter how prepared we think we are, we can end up with questions later on. It is a good idea to write down questions in advance but to prioritise the important ones first - the consultant may get a bit exasperated if you have a very long list! It can also be a good idea to take someone with you and ask them to write down very specifically what the consultant says about your diagnosis and treatment options. Many conditions have different types and stages of progression and it is easy to get lost in the jargon and terminology.

Developments in Treatment

There is some concern in the medical profession at the number of people who stay on the same medication long after its effectiveness. Hopefully you will be getting regular reviews where you can discuss whether there have been any advances in treatments, or find out about reported problems in clinical trials of particular medication. If your treatment plan has not been reviewed for some time you could ask your GP for advice. A regular check on the website of the organisation supporting your condition will usually have the latest research. You may even think about volunteering for trials but the criteria are often quite strict and of course you won’t know if you are getting the trial product or a placebo. Pay attention to any changes over time, or if you develop symptoms when your medication has been changed, and always discuss these with your health professional.

Managing Symptoms and Pain.

There are two main types of pain:

  • Acute pain, or short-term pain, is pain that has started recently.
  • Chronic, or long-term pain, is pain that has lasted for three months or more.

Whatever the cause of your pain, it's important that doctors and other clinicians take you and your pain seriously. That's because pain is a complicated, hard-to-treat problem, and the answer may not necessarily always be stronger and stronger painkillers. The emotional consequences come not just from the pain, but from how the pain changes the way we live and how we think about ourselves. It is important to discuss this with your specialist or GP.

Over the counter and prescribed painkillers are used for pain relief see Health: Thank Goodness for Modern Painkillers to understand the different kinds of painkillers and how to use them safely. Physiotherapy is also used for musculoskeletal and other pain.

Alternative pain relief treatments include:

  • Manipulation and holistic approaches to realign the body, such as osteopaths and chiropractors use.
  • Therapeutic massage, which also uses manipulation.
  • Relaxation and meditation. Focusing on breathing to relax can have a big impact on pain relief. You can learn these through Yoga, T’ai chi or Pilates, or using a relaxation DVD.
  • Visual imagery and distraction: Imagery involves concentrating on mental pictures of pleasant scenes or events or mentally repeating positive words or phrases to reduce pain. You can use DVD’s but usually you need to be taught how to do this effectively.
  • Hypnotherapy and behaviour modification techniques.
  • Nerve stimulation such as TENS
  • Acupuncture and other alternative treatments

These alternative treatments come under the umbrella of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Many people find these alternative approaches to treating pain invaluable. Some are well recognised and regulated such as chiropractors and osteopathy. Others like reiki or aromatherapy help you relax or to feel pampered. For some of us they can quite literally feel like a life-saver where we have tried everything the experts suggest. You do read in the papers about some very costly alternative medicines and interventions that are a serious cause of concern to mainstream medicine. Like everything else in life there are people who will prey on your vulnerability, so you do need to be careful. On the other hand some surgeries now have a recognised alternative practitioner or counselling service on site, although usually not paid for by the NHS. There is a very good explanation of CAM on the NHS Choices website: NHS - complementary and alternative medicine

Natural and Herbal Remedies

There are many products and interventions on the market now that offer more natural solutions to pain control and symptom relief. Some but not all of these have been subject to clinical trials for proof of effectiveness. You will find articles on this site for a whole range of products outlining the pros and cons. Check the Health A-Z and Diet and Supplements for information on individual natural remedies. You might also want to read The Dangers of Herbal Remedies. If you decide to take alternative medicines check with your GP or specialist that they won’t interfere with your prescribed medicines or treatments.

Click to continue to the next section on: 'Independent Living'

Disclaimer: As with any health related information, you should consult your medical practitioner or other healthcare professional to ensure any item mentioned here, or on sites we link to, is relevant for you. Although we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of information we present we make no warranty as to its accuracy and we have no control over and make no warranty over information presented on sites we link to.

This Guide is written by Retirement Specialist Beth Campbell supported by members of the LaterLife team.  


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