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Annu Rev Nurs Res. 2002;20:63-88.

Pain in older adults.

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School of Nursing, Oregon Health & Science University, USA.


This chapter reviews 80 published research reports of pain and pain problems in older adults by nurse researchers and researchers from other disciplines. Reports were identified through searches of MEDLINE and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) using the search terms pain, older adult, aged and pain, and dementia. Reports were included if published between 1985 to 2001, if conducted on samples age 60 or older, if conducted by nurses or relevant to nursing research, and if published in English. Descriptive, qualitative, correlational, longitudinal, and intervention studies were included. Key findings include the following: pain is widely prevalent in older adult populations; few studies have included minority groups; under-identification and undertreatment of pain in older adults is a consistent interpretation of research findings; pain intensity rating scales are as valid and reliable in older populations as in younger populations; current observational methods of assessing pain in cognitively impaired older adults must be used with caution; nursing intervention studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of education and interventions aimed at improved pain assessment. The main recommendations are: careful attention should be given to the conceptualization and definition of pain; examination of pain should include physiological, motivational, cognitive, and affective factors; studies evaluating undertreatment of pain should include measures of pain self-report; standardized pain measures should be used; studies of persons over the age of 85 and studies of ethnic minorities are needed; more attention should be given to nursing intervention studies and should include both pharmacological and nonpharmacological, psychosocial interventions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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