Assessment and treatment of pain in people with dementia

Nat Rev Neurol. 2012 Apr 10;8(5):264-74. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2012.53.


Many elderly people experience pain and regularly take analgesic medication. Pain is also frequent in people with dementia, particularly those with severe disease. As no robust clinical guidelines are available for the treatment of pain in the context of dementia, the risk of inadequate treatment in individuals with this condition is high. Furthermore, our understanding of the aetiology of pain and the potential role of dementia-associated neuropathology in pain is limited. These issues are important in the clinical management of individuals with dementia, as untreated pain is a major contributor to reduced quality of life and disability, and can lead to increased behavioural and psychological symptoms. Assessment scales to identify pain in people with dementia have been highlighted in recent studies, but there is little evidence for consistency between these tools. Numerous studies have evaluated various approaches for the treatment of pain, including stepped-care protocols and/or administration of paracetamol and opioid medications. In this Review, we summarize the best-available evidence regarding the aetiology, assessment and treatment of pain in people with dementia. Further validation of assessment tools and large-scale trials of treatment approaches in people with dementia are needed to improve clinical guidance for the treatment of pain in these individuals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dementia* / complications
  • Dementia* / diagnosis
  • Dementia* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / diagnosis*
  • Pain Management*