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The assessment of pain in older people: UK National guidelines

The assessment of pain in older people: UK National guidelines

Moreno-Leguizamon, Carlos ORCID: 0000-0002-4294-3387 and Schofield, Pat (2018) The assessment of pain in older people: UK National guidelines. Age and Ageing, 47 (1). i1-i22. ISSN 0002-0729 (Print), 1468-2834 (Online) (doi:

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We are facing a huge increase in the older population over the next 30 years. This brings an anticipated increase in the prevalence of chronic pain and with this comes the challenge of assessment of pain in many varied settings. Our first iteration of this document was published in 2007. But there has been a proliferation of literature and research since then, so we have developed a new set of guidelines.

Different patterns and sites of pain were seen in men and women.

Age differences suggest that pain prevalence increased with age up to 85 years and then decreased.

The available studies on barriers and attitudes to pain management point towards an adherence to bio-medically orientated beliefs about pain, concern amongst clinicians in relation to activity recommendations, and a negative orientation in general towards patients with chronic painful conditions.

A multidisciplinary approach to the assessment and treatment of pain is essential, but the assessment is a complex process which is hampered by many communication issues, including cognitive ability and socio-cultural factors. Such issues are part of the UK ageing population.

Structured pain education should be implemented that provides all health professionals (whether professionally or non-professionally trained) with standardised education and training in the assessment and management of pain according to level of experience.

Although subjective, patient self-report is the most valid and reliable indicator of pain and it may be necessary to ask questions about pain in different ways in order to elicit a response.

A number of valid and reliable self-report measures are available and can be used even when moderate dementia exists. The Numerical Rating Scale or verbal descriptors can be used with people who have mild to moderate cognitive impairment. For people with severe cognitive impairment Pain in Advanced Dementia (PAINAD) and Doloplus-2 are recommended.

PAINAD and Doloplus-2 scales continue to show positive results in terms of reliability and validity. There has been no recent evaluation of the Abbey pain scale although it is widely used throughout the UK.

There is a need for more research into pain assessment using the collaborative role of the multidisciplinary team in all care settings.

Self-report questionnaires of function are limited in their ability to capture the fluctuations in capacity and ability. The concentration on items of relevance to the population of interest means that issues of personal relevance can be obscured.

Strong associations were seen between pain and depressed mood with each being a risk factor for the other. Additionally, loneliness and social isolation were associated with an increased risk of pain.

Clinicians should be cognisant that social isolation and or depressive signs and symptoms may be indicators of pre-existing pain or a predictor of future pain onset.

There are a number of evidence based guidelines on pain assessment in older people with or without cognitive impairment from around the world, including Australia and Europe.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Authors 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence (, which permits non-commercial reproduction and distribution of the work, in any medium, provided the original work is not altered or transformed in any way, and that the work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact
Uncontrolled Keywords: Pain, older people
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > School of Human Sciences (HUM)
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > Health & Society Research Group
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Last Modified: 30 Apr 2020 13:52

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