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Assessing Pain in Older People With Persistent Pain: The NRS Is Valid But Only Provides Part of the Picture

      Abstract

      This study examined the assessment of pain intensity and pain distress with the Numerical Rating Scale (NRS) in elderly patients (age >60 years) with persistent pain. A consecutive sample of 800 elderly patients were categorized by age into 3 groups: 61 to 70 years (n = 366), 71 to 80 years (n = 308), and 81 years and over (n = 126). Participants completed 3 Numerical Rating Scales assessing current pain intensity, and both the usual level of pain and average pain distress in the preceding week. The failure rate for scale completion was low for all scales for all age groups, but was significantly higher in the oldest group compared to the youngest group for the scales assessing current pain intensity and average pain distress in the preceding week. The NRS was shown to be a reliable and valid measure of pain intensity and pain distress in all these age groups. Distress related to pain appeared to be specific to the pain experience and was only weakly related to more generalized affective distress. These findings confirm that measures of pain intensity and pain distress, like the NRS, capture only part of the pain experience in older patients and should be supplemented by other measures in the assessment process.

      Perspective

      This article confirms the utility of the Numerical Rating Scale (NRS) as a measure of pain intensity and pain distress in elderly patients with persistent pain. The use of a large sample increases confidence in the psychometric soundness of the NRS with this population.

      Key words

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