Chronic pain can have a profound impact on a person, says Professor David Baxter, of the University of Otago.

Baxter’s team has secured Lottery funding to investigate ageing and pain. He is intent on trying to understand the pain-related impact on older people’s activity and social participation, and discovering what can be done to counter these.

This research project contributes to the wider Ageing Well National Science Challenge, of which Baxter is director. The Ageing Well mission is aimed at helping older New Zealanders retain independence and social connections in age-friendly environments.

The ageing and pain research project includes reviewing current interventions aimed at reducing pain and exploring older people’s attitudes towards chronic pain. It also involves working with local and international organisations to see how research findings can be applied to improve the quality of lives.

“Pain can be compounded as people get older and the ageing process means the likelihood of chronic pain increases,” Baxter says in He Kitenga, Otago’s research highlights publication.

Baxter’s team have been engaging with local older populations in Otago and Southland about their experiences of pain, how it affects them, what barriers it creates and what could be done to help.

“We want to address levels of intervention and get appropriate guidance to healthcare professionals for better patient support and management.”

He gives the example of how doctors used to advise long-standing rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to “take it easy”, which patients interpreted as doing nothing.

“In reality, even those who suffer chronic illness need to stay as physically active as they can because it’s the best they can do to keep ageing well. Current evidence shows that, while medication is important, keeping physically active is essential.

“Chronic pain limits all kinds of things and has a profound impact on the person affected, but the message still remains: if at all possible, stay active.”

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