Nursing Roles in Managing Pain in Older Adults

  • Abby Wickson-GriffithsEmail author
  • Sharon Kaasalainen
  • Laura Pokoradi
Part of the Perspectives in Nursing Management and Care for Older Adults book series (PNMCOA)


As the global population continues to age (National Institutes of Health, Global health and aging [Report on the internet], 2011), direct care practitioners, researchers, and policy makers, including nurses, must work together to engage older adults in identifying and managing health concerns. Although sometimes mistakenly attributed to the aging process (Coker et al., Appl Nurs Res 23:139–46, 2010), pain is common in older adults, who can experience multiple modes of pain including acute, persistent (chronic), postoperative, neuropathic, and cancer (Cavalieri, J Am Osteopath Assoc 105:S12–17, 2005). Key challenges to managing pain in older adults have been attributed to an increased risk for adverse effects from pharmacological treatments, presence of comorbidities, polypharmacy, multimodal pain presentation, poor reporting of pain for older adults, as well as poor pain management strategies employed by the healthcare professionals (Wickson-Griffiths et al., Clin Geriatr Med 32:693–704, 2016). Given these complex challenges, pain in older adults is ideally managed by an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, an approach, which has been supported in the pain literature and through expert opinion (Wickson-Griffiths et al., Clin Geriatr Med 32:693–704, 2016; Hadjistavropoulos et al., Clin J Pain 2:S1–43, 2007). One of the key roles on the interdisciplinary team is that of the nurse, who will contribute to managing client pain.

While there may be differences in nurses’ legislated scope of practice, they are accountable for ensuring that their clients presenting with pain have effective assessment and management (Burns and McIlfatrick, Int J Palliative Nurs 21:400–7, 2015). Based on their holistic assessment of the client, nurses can offer prescribed medical or nursing pain intervention and monitor for its effectiveness, as well as advocate for and coordinate pain management (Burns and McIlfatrick, Int J Palliative Nurs 21:400–7, 2015). Accordingly, this chapter will describe common international nursing roles, setting the context for nurses’ suitability to manage pain in older adults. Next, guidelines and directives that nurses can incorporate into their practice will be highlighted and described. Subsequently, the nursing role in pain management with older adults will be explored, with special attention to the community and long-term care context. Finally, future directions including more resources to support nurses in managing pain will be listed and described.


Nursing roles Pain management Older adults 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abby Wickson-Griffiths
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sharon Kaasalainen
    • 2
  • Laura Pokoradi
    • 3
  1. 1.Faculty of NursingUniversity of ReginaReginaCanada
  2. 2.McMaster University School of NursingHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Hamilton Health SciencesHamiltonCanada

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