Treatment of Chronic Pain for Adults 65 and Over: Analyses of Outcomes and Changes in Psychological Flexibility Following Interdisciplinary Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

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Objective. The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for older adults with chronic pain. Secondarily, we examined the associations between changes on processes of psychological flexibility and treatment outcome variables.

Subjects. Participants were 60 adults with chronic pain age 65 and older selected from a larger consecutive sample of 928 adults of any age. All participants had longstanding pain that was associated with significant distress and disability.

Methods. Participants completed measures of pain, functioning, and depression, and processes of psychological flexibility at baseline, immediately post-treatment, and at a 9-month follow-up. Treatment consisted of a 2- or 4-week residential program based on principles of ACT delivered by an interdisciplinary team. Treatment was designed to increase daily functioning by enhancing key processes of psychological flexibility, including openness, awareness, and committed action.

Results. Participants showed significant improvements in functioning and mental health at posttreatment. Participants also showed significant increases in pain acceptance and committed action from pre- to post-treatment. Small effect sizes were observed for most treatment outcome and process variables in the pre-treatment to follow-up intervals; however, these improvements were not statistically significant. In secondary analyses, changes in facets of psychological flexibility were significantly associated with improvements in social functioning and mental health.

Conclusion. This study supports the potential effectiveness of ACT for chronic pain among older adults. Future research is needed to determine how to maximize the impact of this treatment, particularly through greater impact on psychological flexibility.

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