Pain assessment and treatment in children with cognitive impairment: a survey of nurses' and physicians' beliefs

Clin J Pain. 1999 Dec;15(4):304-12. doi: 10.1097/00002508-199912000-00007.


Objective: To gather information about healthcare providers' beliefs regarding pain and its treatment in children with cognitive impairment.

Design: A survey consisting of two acute pain vignettes (a child undergoing surgery and a child undergoing an outpatient medical procedure) was completed by 440 nurses and 146 physicians at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Respondents completed one of four different surveys that systematically varied the child's level of cognitive impairment (none, mild, moderate, severe) in both vignettes. Questions addressed expected pain, pain assessment methods, pharmacologic regimens, and nonpharmacologic interventions.

Results: In general, provider discipline and level of cognitive impairment did not significantly influence responses about pain experience and treatment. Potent analgesia, regularly scheduled dosing, and nonpainful administration were selected most frequently. Self-report of pain, patient-controlled analgesia, and behavioral interventions requiring higher cognitive skills were selected less frequently for children with more severe cognitive impairment.

Conclusions: The presence of cognitive impairment appeared to influence provider decisions regarding the appropriateness of specific pain assessment and treatment methods requiring skills on the part of the child. Overall, healthcare provider views regarding analgesia and sedation were similar for all children, regardless of impairment. Whether these beliefs are consistent with clinical practice is yet to be documented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Child
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cognition Disorders / complications*
  • Data Collection
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Nurses
  • Pain / complications*
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Pain Management
  • Pain Measurement*
  • Pain, Postoperative / physiopathology
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy
  • Palliative Care* / methods
  • Physicians


  • Analgesics