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Challenges in Pain Assessment in Cognitively Intact and Cognitively Impaired Older Adults With Cancer

Carol P. Curtiss
ONF 2010, 37(5), 7-16 DOI: 10.1188/10.ONF.S1.7-16

Purpose/Objectives: To describe approaches to pain assessment in cognitively intact and cognitively impaired older adults with cancer.

Data Sources: MEDLINE® literature search, personal reference collection, and clinical experience.

Data Synthesis: A systematic and comprehensive pain assessment is the cornerstone of effective treatment strategies. Determining the effect of pain on older adults' ability to function is as important as rating pain intensity. Evidence-based recommendations exist to guide practice.

Conclusions: The undertreatment of pain in older adults persists despite a plethora of published guidelines addressing pain assessment and management. Unrelieved pain affects recovery from illness and all aspects of life. Systematic and ongoing assessment is elementary to effective pain management, yet assessments frequently are neither completed nor documented. Because pain is subjective and individual responses to pain interventions vary widely and are unpredictable, assessment is vital to comprehensive pain care in all clinical settings. Reliable and validated pain assessment tools for cognitively intact and cognitively impaired older adults are available to guide practice.

Implications for Nursing: Pain assessment is a core competency for nurses in all clinical settings. Comprehensive, individualized, and ongoing assessment provides the information necessary so that clinicians can develop interventions to relieve patients' pain and improve their quality of life. Nurses have the knowledge, skills, and tools to adequately screen and comprehensively assess pain in older adult patients, including those with cognitive impairment. By using this knowledge, nurses can change systems and practices, have a significant effect on improving pain care, and increase quality of life and function of older adults with pain.

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