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pain, cognitive disorders, elderly



  1. Horgas, Ann L.
  2. Tsai, Pao-Feng


Background: Prior research has documented the high prevalence of pain in elderly adults and the difficulties associated with properly assessing and treating pain in elders with cognitive impairment.


Objectives: To investigate the prescription and administration of analgesic medications to treat pain in cognitively impaired nursing home residents.


Method: The current sample consisted of 339 nursing home residents (295 women and 44 men) with a mean age of 87 years (range 66-104). Forty-six percent of the sample had diagnosed cognitive impairment, and 55% had at least one diagnosed painful condition. Data for this correlational study were drawn from four nursing homes in Western Pennsylvania. The Multidimensional Observation Scale for Elderly Subjects was used to assess behavioral indicators of cognitive impairment, and chart review was used to obtain demographic, medication, and diagnostic data.


Results: The results indicated that cognitively impaired nursing home residents are prescribed and administered significantly less analgesic medication, both in number and in dosage of pain drugs than their more cognitively intact peers. In multiple regression analyses holding the presence of painful conditions constant, more disoriented and withdrawn residents were prescribed significantly less analgesia by physicians; more disoriented, withdrawn, and functionally impaired residents were administered significantly less analgesia by nursing staff.


Conclusions: The findings highlight the difficulties of assessing pain in cognitively impaired elders and the lack of knowledge among health care providers about effective pain management.