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Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2006 Dec;4(4):316-24.

Pain and pain medication use in community-dwelling older adults.

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Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, Alabama 35294-2041, USA.



Pain is a common symptom and significant problem for older adults; up to one half of community-dwelling older adults have pain that interferes with normal function.


The goal of this study was to investigate the prevalence of pain among a racially and gender-balanced sample of community-dwelling older adults and evaluate sociodemographic factors associated with the reporting of pain. Both nonprescription (over-the-counter [OTC]) and prescription pain medications used by the participants and the sociodemographic factors associated with having medication prescribed were considered.


This was a population-based, prospective, observational study. Subjects were participants in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Study of Aging, a stratified random sample of Medicare beneficiaries who completed in-home interviews (1999-2001). Assessments included sociodemographic factors and pain; interviewers listed all prescription and OTC pain medications used. Pain medications were coded as NSAIDs, opiates, and miscellaneous pain medications. A composite ordinal measure reflecting pain severity and frequency ranged from 0 = no pain to 4 = dreadful or agonizing pain > or =4 times per week.


There were 1000 participants in the UAB Study of Aging (mean [SD] age, 75.3 [6.7] years; 50% black; 50% male; 51% rural residence). Seventy-four percent of the subjects reported pain; among these, 52% had daily pain, with 26% reporting dreadful or agonizing pain. Logistic regression controlling for other sociodemographic factors (age, gender, race, education, income, and marital status) found that rural residence (odds ratio [OR], 1.42; 95% CI, 1.1-1.9; P = 0.02) was significantly associated with the reporting of pain. Prescription pain medications were used by 35% of persons with pain and by 17% without pain (P < 0.001); OTC pain medications were used by 52% of persons with pain and by 45% of persons without pain (P = 0.06). Of persons reporting pain, 28% were taking neither prescription nor OTC pain medications; 16% took both and 20% took only prescription pain medications. Logistic regression found that factors associated with taking a prescription pain medication were: unmarried status (OR, 1.56; 95% CI, 1.1-2.2) and pain frequency/severity (OR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.3-1.6). Taking an OTC pain medication was associated with lower odds of taking a prescription pain medication (OR, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.4-0.7). Age, gender, race, education, rural residence, transportation difficulty, income, and being on Medicaid were not associated with prescription pain medication use.


Prescription pain medication use was associated with pain frequency/severity after adjusting for sociodemographics and OTC pain medications in this study of community-dwelling older adults, suggesting that even with medications, individuals remained in pain.

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