Overview of persistent pain in older adults

Am Psychol. Feb-Mar 2014;69(2):197-207. doi: 10.1037/a0035794.


With the shifting age demographics of the U.S. population, more psychologists will be asked to provide clinical services to older adults. Given the high prevalence of persistent pain in aging, in many cases this will mean providing empirically supported interventions for pain and the interference it creates. The purpose of this review is to provide a broad overview of the scope and impact of persistent pain in older people and to discuss mechanisms by which persistent geriatric pain can lead to suffering and disability. We consider the unique context of pain in older adulthood and review differences between older and younger people in terms of pain perception, the social network, beliefs about pain, pain-related coping, and adherence to pain medication. Finally, we discuss special issues affecting pain management in older adults, including dementia, polypharmacy, and barriers to accessing adequate pain care. This review also highlights a need for greater provider training in pain management to meet the needs of a changing U.S. population.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / psychology
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Humans
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Pain Perception / physiology*
  • Polypharmacy
  • Social Support*