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Physiother Can. 2010 Spring;62(2):104-13. doi: 10.3138/physio.62.2.104. Epub 2010 Apr 23.

Practice guidelines for assessing pain in older persons with dementia residing in long-term care facilities.

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  • 1Department of Psychology and Centre on Aging and Health, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.



Frail patients with dementia most frequently present with musculoskeletal pain and mobility concerns; therefore, physiotherapy interventions for this population are likely to be of great benefit. However, physiotherapists who work with older adults with dementia confront a considerable challenge: the communication impairments that characterize dementia make it difficult to assess pain and determine its source. For an effective physiotherapy programme to be implemented, valid pain assessment is necessary. This paper is intended to provide practice guidelines for pain assessment among older persons with dementia.


Over the last several years, there has been tremendous research progress in this area. While more research is needed, several promising assessment methodologies are available. These methodologies most often involve the use of observational checklists to record specific pain behaviours.


We encourage the ongoing and regular evidence-based pain assessment of older persons with dementia, using standardized procedures. Without regular and systematic assessment, pain problems will often go undetected in this population. Given the need for systematic pain assessment and intervention for long-term care populations with mobility concerns and muculoskeletal pain problems, we call for increased involvement of physical therapists in long-term care facilities.


Alzheimer's disease; assessment; dementia; long-term care; older adults; pain

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