Volume 10 Supplement 1

de Senectute: Age and Health Forum

Open Access

Postoperative pain control in the elderly

  • F Calandese1,
  • S Caroleo1,
  • B Amantea1 and
  • E Santangelo1
BMC Geriatrics201010(Suppl 1):L54

DOI: 10.1186/1471-2318-10-S1-L54

Published: 19 May 2010


Older adults are a heterogeneous group but generally have a higher peak and longer duration of action from opioids. Monitoring cumulative effects from analgesics is particularly important for older adults [1].

Older adults should be first asked to describe their hurting or pain in their own words. Pain intensity should be measured with a consistent scale, after making sure that the individual understands the scale [2]. The pain thermometer, verbal description scale, and faces pain scale have all been used successfully with older adults, but older adults tend to have difficulty accurately reporting their pain with the 100-millimeter visual analog scale. Postoperative pain assessment during movement provides a more accurate pain measure than assessment at rest. Cognitively impaired older adults capable of verbal communication are generally able to report their pain and report pain intensity similar to cognitively intact individuals [3]. It might be necessary to try different pain scales if the older adult does not respond to the initial pain scale. Cognitively impaired older adults demonstrate more nonverbal pain behaviour on movement than those who are cognitively intact [4]. Family members can often identify behaviours indicative of pain in cognitively impaired older family members.


The elderly patient often presents with multisystem disease and changes in drug metabolism, elimination leading to increased sensitivity to analgesic medications. Even so, it is possible to provide these patients with good pain control by selecting the analgesic modality and drugs best suited to each individual patient. Using careful titration of analgesic doses, and by assessing patients frequently for inadequate pain control and for adverse side effects, elderly patients need not be denied the benefits of modern technology in the management of acute pain.

Authors’ Affiliations

Unit of Anesthesia and Intensive Care, Magna Graecia University


  1. Pain in the Elderly. Edited by: Ferrell BR, Ferrell BA,. 1996, IASP Press
  2. Chin ML: Postoperative pain management of the adult patient. IARS review Course Lectures. 1996Google Scholar
  3. Liu S, Carpenter RL, Neal JM: Epidural anesthesia and analgesia, role in postoperative outcome. Anesthesiology. 1995, 82: 1474-1506. 10.1097/00000542-199506000-00019.PubMedView ArticleGoogle Scholar
  4. Acute Pain Management: Operative or Medical Procedures and Trauma. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR). 1992Google Scholar


© Calandese et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2010

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd.