Diagnostics of pain in old age: Perspectives on a multidimensional phenomenon

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Journal Article
Schmerz, 2015, 29 (4), pp. 339 - 348
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© 2015, Deutsche Schmerzgesellschaft e.V. Published by Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg - all rights reserved. Old people’s experience of pain differs markedly from that of younger people. Old people not only suffer from pain more often but also the pain is predominantly chronic in nature. In many cases older patients experience pain from more than one cause at any time due to multimorbidity. Against this backdrop this article examines the question of how diagnostic procedures of pain have to be specific for older patients and how these requirements are currently met in clinical practice. Diagnostic procedures in older persons need to be rooted in a biopsychosocial understanding of pain that also takes into account that the pain experience is always made up of several pain dimensions. A comprehensive understanding of pain communication also has to be taken into account as well as age-specific influences. In older persons pain assessment needs to encompass motivational affective, sensory discriminative and cognitive evaluative aspects. If pain assessment is limited to pain severity or the observation of pain behavior only, important information is lacking and important biographical, health-related, phenomenological and care-specific information cannot be used for the benefit of the patient. Different dimensions of pain cannot be used variably but need to be regarded as complementing elements; however, this approach is currently not always possible to follow through in clinical practice especially with age-related illnesses, such as dementia. Currently, only the geriatric pain interview (Geriatrisches Schmerzinterview) is available as a multidimensional tool for the assessment of pain in older people. There is a clear need for more and extended research and development of tools and processes to comprehensively assess pain in older persons.
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