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Keywords:

  • pain descriptors;
  • elderly;
  • pain assessment;
  • pain scales

The aims of this study were to investigate what words elderly patients, who had undergone hip surgery, used to describe their experience of pain in spoken language and to compare these words with those used in the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SF-MPQ) and Pain-O-Meter (POM). The study was carried out at two orthopaedic and two geriatric clinical departments at a large university hospital in Sweden. Altogether, 60 patients (mean age =77) who had undergone orthopaedic surgery took part in the study. A face-to-face interview was conducted with each patient on the second day after the operation. This was divided into two parts, one tape-recorded and semi-structured in character and one structured interview. The results show that a majority of the elderly patients who participated in this study verbally stated pain and spontaneously used a majority of the words found in the SF-MPQ and in the POM. The patients also used a number of additional words not found in the SF-MPQ or the POM. Among those patients who did not use any of the words in the SF-MPQ and the POM, the use of the three additional words ‘stel’ (stiff), ‘hemsk’ (awful) and ‘räd(d)(sla)’ (afraid/fear) were especially marked. The patients also combined the words with a negation to describe what pain was not. To achieve a more balanced and nuanced description of the patient's pain and to make it easier for the patients to talk about their pain, there is a need for access to a set of predefined words that describe pain from a more multidimensional perspective than just intensity. If the elderly patient is allowed, and finds it necessary, to use his/her own words to describe what pain is but also to describe what pain is not, by combining the words with a negation, then the risk of the patient being forced to choose words that do not fully correspond to their pain can be reduced. If so, pain scales such as the SF-MPQ and the POM can create a communicative bridge between the elderly patient and health care professionals in the pain evaluation process.