Is It A Migraine? Common Geriatric Headaches You May Encounter As A Registered Nurse Working In-Home Healthcare
Pegasus caregivers in Sylmar and elsewhere know that many individuals experience headaches. Some of those are migraines, others are not, and knowing the difference is crucial. This article describes the common geriatric headaches you may encounter as a registered nurse working in-home healthcare.
People often classify headaches as migraine or non-migraine. While convenient, it can be misleading. There are more than 150 types of headaches, nine of which are migraines.
Medical science describes headaches as either primary or secondary. Primary headaches are not caused by other health issues. Secondary headaches are a symptom of an underlying medical problem.
Primary headaches include migraine, cluster, hypnic, and tension headaches. The brain itself doesn’t feel pain. The pain comes from the muscles, nerves, or blood vessels in the head and neck.
Senior Headaches Present Diagnostic Complexity
Secondary headaches have a long list of causes. Dangerous conditions include aneurysms, brain tumors, meningitis, and strokes. Other causes include, but are not limited to:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
Headaches present numerous challenges for you in your home healthcare assessments. The effects of age on their bodies make diagnosis in seniors complex. Seniors have more, and a greater variety, of comorbidities that cause headaches than younger individuals.
Younger people often exhibit the same symptoms as their elders; however, you’ll discover differences in type and causes for seniors. For example, older adults may have fewer migraines but greater frequency of tension headaches. They also tend to have more secondary headaches.
Older adults are often prescribed several kinds of medications, and they may not be taking them correctly. Some medications can potentially increase the frequency or intensity of their headaches. Or they may be experiencing a rebound effect from previously helpful medications.
Pain Relief Medicine May Increase Headache Frequency
A specific migraine, dubbed MOH for medication overuse headache, is often due to pain relief medication. Seniors may have been seeking relief from migraines from an early age. Or they may be trying to overcome pain from other sources.
As you would in a clinical setting, obtain details of all prescribed and OTC medications the individual is taking. Ask them also if they know why they’re taking each med. It may take more than one round of questioning to determine if they’re taking their meds according to instructions.
Sometimes seniors are used to headaches and routinely dismiss them. Statistically, only one/third of all individuals with migraines discuss their symptoms with physicians. And only half those individuals receive an accurate diagnosis.
A Headache Diary Can Help
If a senior’s headaches aren’t due to medications, you can begin evaluating other factors. Ask them, or a family member if necessary, to keep a headache diary. That will help you obtain information such as:
- What they were eating/doing before they got the headache (triggers)
- When the headache occurred (a possible trigger)
- Where they felt the pain (different types occur in different locations)
- How the pain felt (sharp, dull, debilitating)
- How frequently they get headaches
- Other symptoms (nausea, tingling, aura, blind spots, numbness)
Details such as these can assist you in determining what type of headache they’re experiencing. That’s the key to helping them get relief.
Based on your observations and conversations with the individual, try eliminating potential triggers by:
- Teaching individuals and their family members about triggers and how to avoid them
- Improving their nutrition if they are skipping meals or not eating healthy food
- Ensuring that they’re getting adequate exercise
- Evaluating their sleep habits as poor sleep worsens most conditions
- Helping them learn to reduce/manage stress
- Making sure they’re getting appropriate treatment for underlying conditions
Other members of your Pegasus team, such as dietitians or therapists, are available to assist you when necessary.
Home Healthcare Registered Nurses Develop Treatment Plans For Headache Relief
There’s an additional benefit when you’re spending time regularly with an individual. You become familiar with the patterns of their headaches. Changes or the onset of new symptoms can alert you to a potential medical emergency.
Additionally, providing healthcare in an individual’s home allows you to treat the whole person. They will tell you symptoms that they conceal from others because they’re embarrassed or afraid. As seniors become comfortable and confident with your care, you discover more about their health issues, including headaches.
That’s a critical part of developing an effective treatment plan that addresses more than symptoms. It’s an opportunity to improve their quality of life. You have the satisfaction of knowing that your skills and abilities are genuinely helping others.
Home healthcare registered nurses are the professionals who create and implement the treatment plan. Adjustments and modifications are also within their purview. They may have to consult with the individual’s physician regarding medications, but they have autonomy in making care decisions.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Our caregivers in Sylmar and our other locations are dedicated to helping individuals live safely and independently in their home. As a home healthcare registered nurse, your familiarity with geriatric headaches is an essential component of providing customized care.