Special Article| Volume 22, ISSUE 6, P1199-1205, June 2021

Management of Chronic Pain in Nursing Homes: Navigating Challenges to Improve Person-Centered Care

Published:January 23, 2021DOI:


      Despite the dynamic demands in the nursing home (NH), a definitive approach to managing chronic pain in older adults has yet to be established. Due to concerns for potential adverse pharmacologic effects, balancing appropriate pain management is a challenge among NH residents. The challenges encompass but are not limited to medical complexities, functional disabilities, and physical frailty. Barriers to the successful implementation of a comprehensive chronic pain management at the NH may include ambiguous directions on specific therapeutic interventions, insufficient guidance on treatment duration, and limited available treatment options. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ reporting requirement of adequate pain control among NH residents coupled with widely variable clinician-prescribing habits highlights the difficulties in overcoming the preceding challenges and barriers. The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has further complicated pain management due to its negative consequences on well-being of residents of NHs. Associated symptoms of psychosocial stress, anxiety and depression, and chronic pain symptoms can exacerbate during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to increased requirement for pain medications including but not limited to opioids.
      Pain is a multidimensional symptom and requires a strategic multimodal approach for its management. Nonpharmacologic modalities are underutilized in the NH setting and are the preferred first steps for mild pain, and nonopioid pharmacological agents can be added as a second step for a synergistic effect for moderate to severe pain. Opioids should be used as a last resort. Short-acting opioids are preferred over extended-release/long-acting opioids for chronic pain. Clinicians are encouraged to engage residents in proactive strategies in managing their pain, and to set realistic expectations toward improving their quality of life, as complete elimination of pain is not feasible in most cases.
      This review article provides the interdisciplinary team with a contemporary perspective of the multitude of changes and challenges influencing the prescribing as well as deprescribing of various pain medications.


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