Identification of Strategies Used to Cope with Chronic Pain in Older Persons Receiving Primary Care from a Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Though many older people have disabling, chronic pain, most pain studies have focused on younger individuals. In 2001 and 2002, the authors conducted a telephone survey of older people who had chronic pain not due to cancer. Participants were 245 patients 65 years of age or older in a primary care practice at a New England Veterans Affairs medical center. The investigators asked them questions about how they coped with their pain and asked them to rate the effectiveness of each strategy. Patients reported using many different coping strategies but receiving only modest relief. Seventy-eight percent of survey participants took painkillers but only 47 percent found them effective. Only five of the 15 coping strategies most often mentioned were considered effective by more than half the respondents. The open-ended nature of the survey questions identified strategies not included in conventional coping questionnaires. Additional qualitative research is needed to discover how well various coping mechanisms work over time. Research findings may not be broadly applicable because the study population mainly consisted of older, White, male veterans.