Pain management in dementia: so far, not so good
Pain is highly prevalent in the aging population. Individuals with neurological disorders such as dementia are
susceptible patient groups in which pain is frequently under-recognised, underestimated, and under-treated.
The inability to successfully communicate pain in moderate-severe dementia is a major barrier to effective
treatment and several observational studies indicate that pain is under-treated among cognitively impaired
Pain has been related to neuropsychiatric symptoms in dementia, such as agitation, aggression, mood syndrome
and sleep problems. Adequate pain management has been demonstrated as possibly effective in mediating
or alleviating those symptoms.
Recent guidelines (American Geriatric Society 2009, British Geriatric Society 2013) recommend a comprehensive,
disease-specific assessment to determine appropriate treatment for each individual. Whereas in old
patients data on pain management are becoming more consistent, we still lack clinical evidence in those affected
In this narrative review, we summarize the best-available evidence regarding the aetiology, assessment and
treatment of pain in people with dementia. Further large-scale trials of treatment approaches in people with
dementia are needed to improve clinical guidance for the diagnosis and treatment of pain in these fragile individuals.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
© Società Italiana di Gerontologia e Geriatria (SIGG) , 2016
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