Age-related differences in the qualities but not the intensity of chronic pain

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Age differences in the experience of chronic pain remain unclear. A serious barrier to progress in the field of pain and aging arises from the lack of data regarding the psychometric properties of pain scales for use with the elderly. The present study was designed to assess age differences in pain intensity and quality and to compare the psychometric properties of the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ) in young and elderly chronic pain patients. Young (n=139, mean age=42.93±9.41 years) and elderly (n=139, mean age=70.12±7.51 years) pain center patients, matched on primary diagnosis or pain location, duration, and sex, completed the MPQ, numeric ratings (0–10) of pain intensity, a Pain Map, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS). A Pain Management Index (PMI) score was calculated for each patient. Age differences on the measure of pain qualities were found. The elderly group had significantly lower MPQ total and sensory scores and chose fewer words than the young group. However, there were no significant differences between the groups on numeric ratings of highest, usual, and lowest pain intensity. Similarly, there were no age differences on PMI, Pain Map, or the HADS Depression or Anxiety Subscales. Finally, the latent structure, internal consistency, and pattern of subscale correlations of the MPQ were very similar in the young and elderly groups. Possible explanations for the discrepancy in the pattern of age differences on measures of pain intensity and quality are explored. The implications of this pattern of age differences for basic pain mechanisms and pain management should be given serious empirical attention.

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