The fragmented story of pain: A saga of economic discourse and lack of holistic assessment in the residential care of older people

Publication Date



The long-standing problem of overlooked and/or undertreated pain experienced by so many older people living in Australian residential care facilities condemns these people to a life robbed of quality. Such a degree of suffering experienced by older people calls into question the pain assessment skills of staff who work in residential care. However, the problem of undetected and unresolved pain experienced by older people is not simply a skill or knowledge issue. It is much broader than that.

In this paper we portray pain as likened to a story; a narrative that only the older person, as the author, can impart and one in which only they can communicate their experience of pain. Nevertheless, as opposed to seeking the older person's pain narrative, nurses attempt to measure the immeasurable. In part, their actions relate to the confusing terminology which envelops pain assessment. However, political policy and economic discourse also influences nurses’ pain assessment practises to the detriment of older people and the profession of gerontological nursing.

Discussion in this paper includes the experience of pain for the older person, an overview of the specific role of pain-screening tools compared with the requirements of a person-centred pain assessment, and person-centred pathways to help nurses and others interpret and heed the older person's pain story. Analysis also incorporates the argument that current and previous Federal Government funding tools for residential care subtly impact on holistic pain assessment causing confusion for caregivers and fragmentation of the older person's pain story.


School of Nursing, Midwifery & Paramedicine

Document Type

Journal Article

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ERA Access