Feature Article

Understanding and treating pain in the elderly

Benny Katz



Pain is not an inherent part of the ageing process; its prevalence is related to the burden of pathology in old age, such as musculoskeletal diseases, cancer and medical procedures. The impact of pain on function and mood may be as important as the pain itself. Pain is often under-recognised and undertreated, especially in the most vulnerable people, such as those with dementia or living in nursing homes.

Key Points

  • Painful conditions are among the most common reasons for older people to present for medical attention.
  • Pain is not a normal part of ageing; its high prevalence in older people is secondary to the burden of pathology.
  • A person’s response to analgesics is variable.
  • Ineffective or poorly tolerated analgesics should be withdrawn before another medication is trialled.
  • A multidisciplinary approach is recommended when usual approaches have failed.

    Picture credit: © JPC-Prod/Dollar Photo Club. Model used for illustrative purposes only.