Dementia and response to pain in the elderly

Fran Lang Porter, Kristen M. Malhotra, Cynthia M. Wolf, John C. Morris, J. Philip Miller, Marcia C. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Scopus citations


To investigate the effect of dementia on response to pain, 51 community-dwelling, generally healthy, cognitively intact individuals ≤ 65 years old and 44 community- or nursing home-dwelling persons ≤ 65 years old with varying severity of dementia were studied. Cognitive status was assessed by standardized clinical evaluation and psychometric test performance. The following responses were measured before, during and after a standard venipuncture procedure: heart rate, the amplitude of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), self-reported anxiety and pain, and videotaped facial expressions. Although RSA did not differentiate procedural phases, in both samples, mean heart rate increased in the preparatory phase and decreased in the venipuncture phase. Independent of age, increasing severity of dementia was associated with blunting of physiologic response as measured by diminished heart rate increase in the preparatory phase and heart rate increase with venipuncture. Dementia significantly interfered with the subjects' ability to respond to direct questions about anxiety and pain. Those who were able to respond were relatively accurate self-assessors: higher anxiety was associated with greater magnitude heart rate responses. Facial expression was increased in demented individuals but it could not be classified by specific emotions. We conclude that dementia influences both the experience and reporting of pain in elderly individuals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-421
Number of pages9
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Dec 1996


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