If you’ve ever experienced the pain of a migraine, you may not get too excited about Migraine Awareness Month, which takes place each June. But if you’re a caregiver for someone who suffers from these types of headaches, especially a senior, you might want to learn more about what’s taking place and how you can help them.
The team at Accredited Home Care has many clients who suffer from different types of headaches, so we’re familiar with how they can range from a little ache for a few hours to days of crippling pain through your whole head and neck. We’ve also done a lot of research into what may trigger certain types of headaches, and what may be happening in someone’s brain when they’re occurring.
Learning about headaches also can mean finding ways to make them go away, whether it’s medication, complementary therapy like massage or acupuncture, or even seeing a doctor. Or, some might go away on their own “the traditional way” if by spending time in a cool, dark environment or getting some sleep.
Science is still exploring the mysteries of the different types of headaches including causes like certain foods or drinks. There are also possible mental health triggers for headaches – stress – plus physical causes, such as head, neck, or shoulder trauma.
What is already known is that headaches are quite common.
The National Headache Foundation said 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from migraines and 1 billion people worldwide. The foundation believes another 16 million people in the U.S. have migraines but haven’t been diagnosed with them.
Migraines are also the second-highest cause of disability around the world.
Additionally, cluster headaches, which can have similarities to migraines but are often more painful, are experienced by at least 400,000 people annually.
Migraines also range in intensity and symptoms. A minor one might include pulsing or sharp pain in different areas of the head. A more serious one might be accompanied by sensitivity to light, muscle pain throughout the body, nausea, balance problems, even seeing auras around people.
The foundation also reported that more people have been reporting migraine attacks in the last year, as high as a 70 percent increase from 2019. No firm reason is stated – it could be environmental with ore people having to stay indoors during COVID-lockdowns. Or it could be due to higher rates of stress in many people’s worlds due to all the changes. It might be due to a possible connection from COVID-19 that seems to have increased the reported rates of headaches similar to migraines.
However, since there’s still a lot of unknowns about COVID and what mental and physical effects might be, it may take more time and research to learn more.
Migraines and seniors
Interestingly, seniors generally get fewer migraines than their younger peers, since these types of headaches affect people between age 20-40, especially women. By age 70 only about 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men are likely to get a migraine after age 75.
But at the same time, seniors are more likely to get other types of headaches, and when they do get them, they are often more painful than a younger person might experience and they might signal a larger problem rather than a routine headache.
Seniors also may experience other related symptoms. WebMD said one common occurrence is what’s called a “late-life migraine,” where they may experience many of the unpleasant side effects of a standard migraine, such as balance problems, fatigue, vision changes, nausea, and numbness in part of the body. However, only about half the people who experience these symptoms have an actual headache, and when a headache occurs it’s usually quite mild.
These types of symptoms without a severe headache may also be caused by a reaction to certain medication especially overuse of certain analgesics.
Headaches also may show up due to other medical conditions, including cerebrovascular disease, better known as a stroke. These are a definite cause for concern and a provider should be alerted, and definitely shouldn’t be treated like a regular migraine.
In fact, someone who experiences what they feel is the worst headache of their life and says it feels more painful than even the worst migraine might want to seek medical attention immediately. These ‘thunderclap’ headaches that come unexpectedly might indicate something serious and potentially deadly, such as an aneurysm or thrombosis.
Patients with dementia may feel a headache but may not how they received it. It’s possible they fell but may not remember it, so a caregiver should make sure to check them physically for bumps or bruises or for other symptoms related to head trauma, such as nausea or poor coordination.
Beyond seeking medical advice if you’re concerned about a headache that a senior is experiencing, other common treatment methods can include:
- Asking them to lay down in a cool, quiet, and dim environment with a cool cloth or ice pack on their face and head. This can reduce some of the tension they may be feeling and increase blood flow.
- Over-the-counter pain medication may help relieve some of the general aches.
- Some migraine sufferers recommend small amounts of caffeine to improve blood flow.
- Mild exercise also can be a possible remedy. Although it can be hard to want to get out when someone is in pain, exercise will likely produce pain-killing endorphins.