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08-12-2013 | Pain medicine | Article

Pain burden large in US older adults


Free abstract

medwireNews: Bothersome pain affects over half of the older adult population in the USA and significantly decreases their physical function, show data from the 2011 National Health and Aging Trends Study.

The overall prevalence of bothersome pain in the past month was 52.9%, affecting a total of 18.7 million adults aged at least 65 years, of whom 74.9% experienced pain at multiple sites.

“The impact of pain in older adults is substantial,” say researcher Kushang Patel (University of Washington, Seattle, USA) and colleagues, who found that being unable to do some fundamental daily tasks was 70% to 80% more common in those with than without pain.

“These effects were even more pronounced in those with pain in multiple sites,” the researchers note in Pain.

Indeed, they found that 72% more participants with than without pain reported being unable to walk a quarter of a mile. And gait speeds among those with pain at one, two, three, and four or more sites were 0.01, 0.03, 0.05, and 0.08 m/s slower, respectively, than among those without pain.

Other measures of physical capacity that were significantly associated with pain, particularly multi-site pain, were decreased grip strength, overall lower-extremity physical performance, and self-reported physical capacity.

And the prevalence of bothersome pain was higher among women than men, and in older adults with obesity, musculoskeletal conditions, and depressive symptoms.

However, the researchers report that there was no variation in the prevalence of pain across different age groups, even when factors affecting pain in the oldest-old, such as dementia, cognitive function, proxy response, and residential care status, were considered.

“The current study […] reveals a high burden of pain in the older adult population spanning from the youngest old to the oldest old,” comment Patel et al.

They add: “Considering that pain is often undertreated in the older adult population, the findings of the current study underscore the need for public health action, including additional epidemiologic research on other geriatric outcomes such as falls and frailty.”

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Lucy Piper, Senior medwireNews Reporter