Pain and pain assessment in people with intellectual disability: Issues and challenges in practice
- Pain is difficult to identify when people cannot communicate.
- If pain is not identified, it cannot be managed and causes stress.
- Pain assessment is essential in order to identify pain.
- Pain assessment requires a combination of knowledge, health assessments and observations.
Individuals with intellectual disability experience the same chronic diseases and conditions as the general population, but are more likely to have physical and psychological co-morbidities, resulting in a higher risk of experiencing pain and having more frequent or severe pain.
This position paper aims to highlight the importance of pain assessment for people with intellectual disability.
As people with intellectual disability live within the community and/or remain in the family home, they are accessing a wide range of healthcare services. This necessitates that nurses across all care settings are knowledgeable regarding appropriate/alternative pain assessment methods for people with intellectual disability. While many pain assessment tools are available for use with the intellectual disability population, they are often not well established or infrequently used to establish their validity.
Although self-report is the gold standard in pain assessment, pain assessment for people with intellectual disability is often challenging as they may be unable to self-report their pain due to their levels of communication or cognitive ability. Assessment requires a combination of approaches amalgamating: pain assessment, health assessment and observation of behaviours.