Care indicators - Pain


(Chronic) pain is often experienced by elderly persons who live at home or in care centres or are staying in hospitals. However, pain is still not recognised and treated to a sufficient extent.


According to the definition by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP), pain is defined as ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.’


Research by Boerlage et al. (2008) indicates that 69% of people in nursing homes suffer from pain. Of these, 93% are troubled by chronic pain. Pain can have physical consequences such as impaired movement, falls and reduced autonomy of action. Besides the physical reactions, pain also has consequences for a person’s social life. Being less able to take part in everyday life can lead to reduced social contacts. Moreover, pain can accelerate cognitive decline and lead to fear, depression, anger, fatigue and sleep disturbances (Verenso 2011).

How to recognise pain

Pain occurs in various forms and differs from person to person. The following symptoms may indicate that a person is suffering pain: difficulty in standing up or moving, sighing, groaning sounds, holding or protecting a painful point in the body, changes in facial expression, low participation in activities or listlessness/apathy. Among elderly persons who are unable to talk, or can only talk a little, the following signs point to pain: groaning and moaning, frowning eyebrows, a tense body, loss of weight and/or appetite, agitation or restlessness, socially inappropriate behaviour (Verenso 2011).

Pain relief

Pain can be reduced by pain medication (mild or stronger painkillers) or by non-drug forms of pain relief such as exercise therapy, mindfulness or meditation, TENS, relaxation exercises and alternative forms of treatment such as acupuncture.


  • Boerlage A, van Dijk M, Stronks D, de Wit, R, van der Rijt C (2008). Pain prevalence and characteristics in three Dutch residental homes.
  • Herkennen van pijn bij ouderen met dementie. Academische Werkplaats voor Ouderenzorg Zuid-Limburg.
  • V&VN Pijnverpleegkundigen:
  • Verenso (2011). Multidisciplinaire Richtlijn Pijn, Herkenning en behandeling van pijn bij kwetsbare ouderen. Utrecht 2011.
  • Zwakhalen, SMG (2007). Pain Assessment in Nursing Home Residents with Dementia. Maastricht University, December 2007

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