Acute Pain Management in Hospitalized Patients with Cognitive Impairment: A Study of Provider Practices and Treatment Outcomes


Sonal Mehta, MD, Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, 525 E 68th Street, Box 39, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY 10065, USA. Tel: 212-746-3609; Fax: 212-746-4888; E-mail:


Background.  Despite new guidelines and nationally mandated regular assessments, managing pain in cognitively impaired patients remains a complex and challenging task. Numerous studies have focused on assessing pain in this population; however, studies of treatment are limited.

Purpose.  The purpose of this article was to characterize assessment and pain management strategies used by providers caring for hospitalized cognitively impaired patients with acute pain, and to assess for associations between amount of opioid received and specific adverse outcomes in this patient population.

Methods.  Medical records of patients admitted to the Geriatrics Service or Orthopedic Service or evaluated by the Geriatrics Consult Service at an urban tertiary care hospital between September 01, 2006 and September 30, 2007 with cognitive impairment and an acute pain problem on admission were reviewed.

Results.  Participants (N = 100) had a mean age of 86 years (range = 68–99), and were mostly female (83%) with fracture-related pain (62%). A numeric pain score was recorded in 67% of nursing assessments vs <5% of physician assessments. Opioids were prescribed for 100% of the surgical patients vs 43% of the medical patients. Only 15% of patients were placed on a standing analgesic regimen. Nonpharmacological management was employed for 75% of surgical patients vs 43% of medical patients. Delirium occurred in 27% of patients, and 33% experienced an interruption of physical therapy. Neither, however, was associated with level of opioid use.

Conclusions.  Current assessment and treatment practices in acute pain management for cognitively impaired patients vary widely (to include service and provider type). Implementation of evidence-based guidelines is needed to improve patient care.