Caring for Older People with Fibromyalgia

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older people with fibromyalgia

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For many their only information about fibromyalgia comes from commercials about treatment options. In those commercials, most of the patients are young to middle-aged. But fibromyalgia is not just a young person’s disease and studies have focused on its effect on the quality of life in older people with fibromyalgia.

Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia can be the same as symptoms of other diseases associated with aging, sometimes other diseases have been diagnosed when those symptoms are actually a result of the fibromyalgia. For example, some older people who complain of widespread pain may be misdiagnosed as having a form of arthritis. Seniors with cognitive difficulties may be mistakenly diagnosed with dementia when they are suffering from “fibro fog.” This can be detrimental since patients fare better the earlier they are diagnosed and can receive treatment.

Older people with fibromyalgia

A recent study published recently in the Turkish medical journal Agri Pain gave researchers another look at older people with fibromyalgia. While the study group was small, the results mirrored those from other studies conducted recently. One-hundred patients between the ages of 65 and 80 were in the group. Of these patients, 31 percent had fibromyalgia and the rest did not. Of those with the condition, 25 were women and six were men.

The group

The study looked at various ailments affecting the older population. The following compares the diagnosis between older people with fibromyalgia patients who do not have the condition.

older people with fibromyalgia

Table 1

While some of the patients without fibromyalgia complained of more hip and knee pain, those with the condition scored higher in overall pain and other symptoms. Those included lack of sleep, energy, social isolation and emotional reactions.

Study conclusions

Noting its limitations because of the number of patients, the study did not just cite its own data. In referencing a 2009 study, also done in Turkey, researchers noted that in 80 patients between the ages of 20 and 57 the most common complaint was fatigue. Ninety-seven point five percent of patients complained of this symptom. The next most commons symptom was morning stiffness with 77.5 percent. Sleep problems were reported in 71.3 percent.

Researchers concluded the study by saying the severity of fibromyalgia reduced with increasing age and that the finding was consistent with previous studies. In other words, middle-age adults reported more symptoms than their older counterparts. One of the reasons cited in the study is that younger people want to be perceived as younger and active and are less tolerant of fibromyalgia symptoms.

Treating older people with fibromyalgia

Treating someone over the age of 60 for any disease comes with complications not found in younger patients. Here are a few tips to consider if you or your loved one is facing a fibromyalgia diagnosis at an older age:

  • Work with your doctor on medications. Often seniors have a host of medical problems such as heart conditions or arthritis. Make sure any medication prescribed won’t have a negative reaction with what you or your loved one is already taking.
  • One of the symptoms of fibromyalgia is cognitive problems. It may be easy for a doctor to attribute any confusion to fibromyalgia. Ask questions of the doctor to get a correct diagnosis.
  • Exercise is often recommended as a way to alleviate pain for fibromyalgia patients. With elderly patients, movement may be more difficult. Consider some low impact weight training or water exercises to minimize impact. Tai-chi has been recommended as a low-impact approach to managing health that may benefit senior citizens.
  • Fibromyalgia patients of all ages struggle with sleep problems. Following a regular bedtime pattern can help reduce these symptoms in senior citizens.

Even with increased awareness of fibromyalgia, the condition is still misdiagnosed and misunderstood, not only for seniors but for patients of all ages. But due to other age-related issues, seniors particularly need to be aware of their symptoms and any possible link to fibromyalgia.


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