Understanding Pain Management in Aged Care

Doctor holding card that reads ' Pain Management'

There are many misconceptions around pain and ageing – pain isn’t actually a symptom of ageing. Instead, pain is caused by illness or health conditions, which are more common in elderly people. Studies have estimated that between 26% and 86% of residents in residential aged care facilities experience pain on a regular basis. That’s why effective pain management is a key responsibility for all home and residential aged care providers.

Pain management in aged care uses different approaches to reduce and ‘manage’ a resident’s pain. Over time successful pain management increases independence, wellbeing, mobility and comfort.

All residential aged care providers need to regularly assess and provide both pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches. Using a combination of treatment options is the most effective way to reduce pain for residents.

“People who actively manage their pain in these ways see more improvements in their mood, overall health and ability to function, compared with those who only use medicines to manage their pain.”

-Health Direct

Person Centered Care









There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to managing chronic pain or providing care. Person-centered care is an important principle at Embracia Aged Care. The residents’ preferences, needs, personal history, likes and dislikes are considered.Then a tailored pain management plan is implemented. Residents and family need to be consulted at every stage to ensure the best quality of care.

Steps in Pain Management
Personal Care Assistant talks with elderly resident.

Embracia staff will develop a tailored pain management plan with each resident.

Anyone in close contact with a resident can help identify the signs. This can include family members, Personal Care Assistants (PCAs), allied health providers, doctors, and the lifestyle team.

Of course, the easiest way to know if someone is in pain is by asking them directly. If a person is unable to or limited in their ability to communicate, there are other behaviors linked to pain:

  • Facial expressions such as grimacing or frowning.
  • Making sounds such as sighing, moaning or calling out.
  • Being tense or rigid, fidgeting or walking strangely.
  • Becoming aggressive, withdrawn, confused or upset.
  • Physical changes such as sweating or changes in temperature, pulse, or blood pressure.

Types of Pain Management in Aged Care

There are two types of pain management: pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches.

Pharmacological means using medicine to treat and manage pain. Medicine like Panadol, ibuprofen, analgesics and topical agents may be recommended by a doctor. The aim of the medication is to reduce pain without causing too many other side effects or clinical risks. The resident’s GP has the lead role and responsibility in prescribing medications, but nursing and care staff have a key role to play in assessment and reporting.

Non-pharmacological means not using medication, these approaches are proven to increase wellbeing but need to be tailored to the individual just like regular medication. Simple things like healthy sleep and good nutrition help reduce pain for elderly people.

Education & Psychology

Education teaches residents and families about the misconceptions on pain and its impact. Education is essential for people to make informed decisions on their health and what’s right for them. Psychological treatment is sometimes needed to change how residents think, act, and feel about their pain, plus aid if they are struggling mentally. Because pain is a sensory and emotional experience, it can have negative effects on mental health.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM)
Seniors in group yoga class.

Yoga and meditation practice is proven to relax residents and help manage pain.

One popular way to manage pain in aged care is through Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM), this is a holistic approach to clinical pain management. CMI involves alternative approaches that reduce stress and relax residents. Usually provided by nursing staff, lifestyle, or allied health providers. Examples include:

  • Yoga or Thai Chi
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Music therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Pet Therapy
  • Massage

Physical activity & therapy

It’s important for residents to remain active! Participating in exercise and physical therapy sessions increase strength, flexibility and mood. Physical therapy like group exercise is a social activity and provides a distraction. The physiotherapists at Embracia Aged Care are trained professionals who modify activities as needed and teach residents how to use their body safely.

Embracia Wellness Program

Embracia Aged Care residents now have access to CMI approaches through our new Wellness Program. Specialist Wellness Registered Nurses (RNs) will deliver CMI treatments throughout the day at both homes to help manage and reduce chronic pain for residents. This is in addition to Embracia’s existing physical therapy, exercise, pharmacological, psychological, and educational approaches.

Our new team of wellness RNs will be working with the Physio and Lifestyle teams to deliver a comprehensive Wellness Calendar.

Resources on Pain Management in Aged Care

Effective pain management in residential aged care is an ongoing process that requires involvement from residents, health professional, care staff and family.

If you want to learn more about pain management, check out the guide for aged care providers and a fact sheet for residents and families.