BMC Geriatrics, 2023

A systematic review of prevalence of pain in nursing home residents with dementia

Background: The prevalence of dementia in nursing home (NH) residents is high, and pain is a troublesome symptom for them. Several studies since 2010 have focused on pain in NH residents with dementia, but there is a lack of systematic reviews on the prevalence of pain in NH residents with dementia.

Aim: To systematically review observational studies published from 2010 to 2023 on how pain is assessed and prevalence of pain found in NH residents with dementia.

Methods: A systematic search was conducted in the MEDLINE, PubMed, PsycINFO, Embase, CINAHL, AgeLine, and Cochrane databases for studies published from January 2010 to August 2023. Studies were included if they were observational studies with a quantitative design where self-report, staff assessment, and/or chart review were used to define the prevalence of pain in samples or subsamples of NH residents with dementia.

Results: Of 184 studies considered, 25 were included. The studies assessed pain as daily, present, clinically relevant, chronic, intermittent, persistent pain and/or if pain affected quality of life. The prevalence of pain was high in most studies of NH residents with dementia independent of whether pain was reported as presence of pain or clinically relevant pain, but the prevalence varied from 8.6% to 79.6%. This prevalence was quite stable across the NH stay, but higher towards the end of life (up to 80.4%). Study designs and methodologies differed considerably. About half relied on an observational assessment inventory.

Conclusion: The number of studies focusing on pain in NH residents with dementia was restricted and methodologies differed considerably. Relatively few studies used an observational assessment inventory. In view of the fact that residents with dementia may have difficulties communicating pain, clinicians should pay attention to pain in these residents, systematically and reliably uncover pain by use of observational inventories, and subsequently treat pain to secure high quality care.


Anne-S Helvik, Sverre Bergh & Kjerstin Tevik

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