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A Guide to Headaches in Older Adults | Generations Home Care
A man suffering from a headache

Getting old can be a headache–and in some cases, even literally. The good news for seniors this Migraine and Headache Awareness Month is that they’re much less likely to get headaches than younger people. Between ages 21 and 34, 92 percent of women and 74 percent of men reported having headaches. However, after age 75, only 55 percent of women and 21 percent of men reported having frequent headaches. It’s a similar story with migraines: by age 70, only 5-10 percent of seniors reported having migraines. 

However, if you’re still getting headaches in your later years, it might be a troubling sign. The risk of a headache signaling a life-threatening condition increases tenfold when you’re over 65. This makes it even more important to get a proper diagnosis for any head pain you suffer later in life, especially if it’s intense or recurring. Of course, there are many potential causes for headaches in older adults, and while many are not a sign of an underlying condition, they all deserve treatment. Headaches are deeply unpleasant, and your health doesn’t need to be at risk to seek relief. 

Heed Potential Warning Signs 

Headaches in older adults fit into one of two categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches. A primary headache means the headache itself is the problem. A secondary headache is a symptom of another condition and may be cause for greater concern. Here are some different types of primary and secondary headaches, their causes, and when to be concerned. 

Primary Headaches 

  • Tension headaches are the most common form of headaches in older adults, with a one-year prevalence between 25 and 35 percent. They generally feel like a band of pressure around the skull. Stress, dehydration, poor sleep, or bad posture can all cause tension headaches. Luckily their severity also tends to decrease with age, but they can still cause serious discomfort. 
  • Migraines are a severe and debilitating type of headache. They involve intense pain, usually on one side of the head, paired with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity. They typically last for hours and can continue for days. Some older adults might develop late in life migraines, which tend to be milder and shorter. If you’ve never had a migraine before and begin to experience these symptoms, you should contact a doctor immediately. 
  • Hypnic headaches only occur in people over the age of 50 and become more common the older you get. These mild or moderate headaches wake you up when you’re sleeping and are rarely very intense. They’re also very treatable using low-impact remedies such as caffeine or melatonin. 

Secondary Headaches 

  • Head trauma might seem like a clear culprit for a headache. After all, if you hit your head hard, it’s obviously going to hurt. But headaches relating to trauma can be insidious. They can keep returning for up to a year after an injury. Though they may not necessarily be a sign of lingering complications, talk to your doctor about your symptoms and monitor them closely.
  • Pharmacy-induced headaches happen as a side effect of medication. In these cases, talking to your doctor to eliminate or replace the treatment causing your headaches is the first step. They are also similar to rebound headaches, triggered by the overuse of pain medicine. In either case, developing a new treatment method using different medications or alternatives is the best way to address this pain.
  • Thunderclap headaches are a medical emergency and may be a sign of a life-threatening condition. They are an extremely intense headache that comes on very quickly, peaking within 60 seconds or less. Many people describe them as feeling like “the worst headache of their lives.” Thunderclap headaches can be a sign of intracranial bleeding, encephalitis, spontaneous intracranial hypotension, and more. If you experience this type of pain, seek emergency help immediately.

Caring for Headaches gets Complicated with Age

Though the prevalence of minor headaches tends to decrease in older adults, the ability to treat them can also grow more complex. Because seniors often take multiple prescriptions, the chance of even an over-the-counter pain medicine reacting with an existing medication is much higher. And as mentioned above, some medicines can actually cause headaches as a side effect. Overall, it’s both good news and bad news for seniors concerned about headaches. 

If you’re coping with regular headaches or other pain, it gets challenging to keep up with life’s daily necessities. Have you considered getting some assistance from an in-home caregiver? A caregiver can be there for you on an as-needed basis, ready to chip in when you’re coping with the symptoms of a migraine or tension headache. They’re an excellent resource for staying on top of cooking, chores, and cleaning when you have other things on your mind. Overall a caregiver can provide whatever you might need to thrive, whether it’s assistance, transportation, or companionship. For seniors dealing with recurring head pain, in-home caregivers are here to help.

About Generations Home Care

Generations Home Care personalized in-home care and support services help those recovering from illness, injury, or surgery, living with a chronic disease, or dealing with the natural process of aging. We help people live a fuller, healthier, and independent life.

Our caregivers are trained in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended COVID-19 safety precautions. We offer levels of care ranging from companionship, to respite for the primary family caregiver, to homemaking services, to assistance with activities of daily living, to Alzheimer’s and dementia care. Generations Home Care takes a holistic approach and emphasizes a consistent, client-centered plan of care.

Our Specialty Services Include:

  • Rehab or hospital-to-home programs for safe discharge.
  • Short-term post-operative care during recovery periods.
  • Non-medical life management services for people with chronic conditions.
  • Veteran’s connection to care program.
  • Live-in services and couples care.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you, contact us today at 602-595-HOME (4663) or by filling out the contact form on our website.

About the author - Josh Friesen

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