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  • Writer's pictureSee Pain More Clearly Team

Overcoming Gaps in Health Professional Education About Pain in Dementia

My friend and colleague Dr. Judith Watt-Watson, a Professor Emerita from the University of Toronto, published an article back in 2009 documenting gaps in the pain curricula of Canadian health science faculties. Specifically, she looked at medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, physical therapy and occupational therapy training programs. She found that the majority of these programs could not identify specific designated hours for pain education. Only 32.5% of participating programs could identify specific hours dedicated to pain content. The average total number of hours reported for the various health care disciplines ranged from 13 to 41. For the purposes of comparison, the range of specialized pain content hours in veterinary programs was 27 to 200. It is very distressing to know that, according to Dr. Watt-Watson’s study, veterinarians seem to be having considerably more specialized pain training, on average, than health professionals trained to help humans.

More recent research demonstrates gaps in health professional education about pain in dementia. For example, an Irish study published in 2018 showed that of the general practitioners (physicians) surveyed, only 10% were aware of any dementia-specific pain assessment tools! Other research has also documented similar gaps.

A primary goal of the #SeePainMoreClearly social media campaign is to mobilize knowledge about pain assessment in dementia and to familiarize health professionals and other stakeholders with cutting edge approaches. Please visit to find information about evidence-based pain assessment methods that have been developed specifically for people with dementia. These tools and approaches tend to be easy to use.

The benefits of regular pain assessment in people with serious limitations inability to communicate due to dementia are many. Aside from obvious improvements in quality of life and pain reductions, regular pain assessment can be used to identify health problems early when they are easier to treat. Moreover, regular pain assessment can lead to treatment optimization and reduce unnecessary polypharmacy (using many medications at the same time). Finally, regular pain assessment has been shown to reduce stress among health care staff members, possibly because they are most content when their patients are feeling well.

- By Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, Ph.D., FCAHS

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Would you like to share your thoughts on our See Pain More Clearly initiative and the use of social media to mobilize knowledge about pain in dementia?

We are looking for people to participate in a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the #SeePainMoreClearly social media initiative to mobilize knowledge about pain in dementia.

Dr. Hadjistavropoulos is an international leader in the area of pain assessment in dementia and has shown leadership in the promotion of the health sciences at the local, national and international level. He is the Research Chair in Aging and Health, Director of the Centre on Aging and Health and Professor of Psychology at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He served as the 2007 President of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA).


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