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The high prevalence of pain in older adults and its impact in this age group make it a public health issue, yet few studies of pain relief focus on older adults. Residents of long-term care facilities have more cognitive impairment than their community-living counterparts and may have difficulty reporting the presence and severity of pain. This systematic literature review was conducted to determine the prevalence of pain, and the type and effectiveness of interventions that have been used to treat pain in residents of nursing homes.Studies were identified by searching MEDLINE (from January 1966 to May 1997), HEALTH (from January 1975 to May 1997), CINAHL (from January 1982 to April 1997), AGELINE (from January 1978 to April 1997) and the Cochrane Library (1997, issue 1) and by performing a manual search of textbooks and reference lists. Studies of any methodological design were included if they estimated the prevalence of pain in nursing homes or other long-term care institutions or evaluated interventions for the treatment of pain in residents. Of the 14 eligible studies, 12 were noncomparative studies, 1 was a comparison study with nonrandomized contemporaneous controls, and 1 was a randomized controlled trial. Information on several factors was extracted from each study, including study design, number of patients and facilities, main outcomes measured, methods used to identify and detect pain, prevalence and types of pain, and interventions used to treat pain. The strength of the evidence provided by each study was also assessed.In the 6 studies with data from self-reporting or chart reviews, the prevalence of pain ranged from 49% to 83%. In the 5 studies with data on analgesic use only, the prevalence of pain ranged from 27% to 44%. Only 3 studies, with just 30 patients in total, evaluated an intervention for the treatment of pain.Despite the high prevalence of pain in residents of nursing homes, there is a lack of studies evaluating interventions to relieve their pain. The authors make recommendations for future studies in this area.