Older adults experience moderate to severe postoperative pain during and after their hospital stay. Preoperative education about pain management decreases postoperative pain. Postoperative pain management should generally include concurrent treatment of pre-existing chronic pain problems and a multimodal approach that incorporates postoperative opioids, nonopioids, and nonpharmacologic pain treatments. Opioids should be started at 25-50% of the adult dose and titrated until pain is reduced to a mild level. Older adults should be monitored closely to prevent side effects from opioid accumulation. A consistent pain scale that the older adult understands should be used to evaluate the pain response.
Key words: postoperative pain, pain assessment, opioids, nonopioids, nonpharmacologic treatments.
Pamala D. Larsen, PhD, CRRN
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs,
College of Nursing and Health Professions,
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, NC, USA.
Although the elderly compose a significant percentage of the surgical patient population, postoperative pain management for this population has received little attention.1 According to 1990 data, more than 4,000 documents are published annually about pain, but fewer than 1% focus on pain in the older adult.2 Lack of published information and research about geriatric pain results in most patients' pain being managed by trial and error.
Considerable evidence suggests that pain is undertreated in older patients. This may be due in part to the misconception that pain sensation diminishes with increasing age or that the elderly patient cannot tolerate narcotic analgesia.3 The perception that older adults have less pain sensitivity than do younger patients is influenced somewhat by the silent myocardial infarctions and emergent 'painless' intra-abdominal surgical events that frequently occur in older adults.4 The research involving pain perception in the elderly client provides mixed results. These conflicting results make it difficult to fully establish the relationship or connection between aging and the sensory pain component.
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