The Case for Pain Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has caused many problems for seniors in long-term care homes. We have seen COVID-19 outbreaks with tragic consequences including death, hospitalizations and even staff leaving the job because of increased stress and limited personal protective equipment. For the purposes of infection control, facilities restricted access to visitors with devastating psychological consequences for many seniors and their families. Efforts have been made to improve these conditions including re-introduction of visiting caregivers in some facilities, better access to personal protective equipment and re-organization of accommodations to reduce the number of residents who have to share rooms with others.
Efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have also limited researcher access to long-term care facilities. This is understandable. At the same time, in response to the problems created by the pandemic, many researchers have created protocols that could allow them to conduct their research remotely without visiting the facility (e.g., interviewing staff members over Zoom or obtaining the necessary data in other ways). Many long-term care homes, overwhelmed by the increased demands and added stress caused by the pandemic, are reluctant to re-open their facilities to researchers even when the work can be done remotely. Home administrators and many staff members understandably believe that the staff have experienced enough stress over the last year and they don’t need any added stress that could be caused by research demands.
Despite the aforementioned considerations, a strong case can be made to resume research, and especially pain research, in long-term care environments when the research protocols can be delivered safely, remotely and with minimal impact on staff responsibilities. First, it is important to consider that long-term care is under researched to begin with. Researchers have not paid as much attention to long-term care as they have to acute care. Continuing with the suspension of long-term research activities can contribute to long-term care falling further behind in the quest for research results that can benefit the residents. Second, applied clinical research focusing on pain can improve quality of life for residents and, as research has demonstrated, can also help alleviate staff stress (i.e., when resident quality of life improves, job stress for staff decreases). During the COVID-19 pandemic pain becomes even more prominent given that it is a core symptom of COVID-19 and considering that social isolation (caused by limits on permitted visits by friends and family) can increase the suffering of those who have pain. State of the art research protocols, focusing on pain management, can improve pain care. The era of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities should be seen as an opportunity and motivator to improve quality of care for residents and not as reason to stop many of the very activities that improve quality of life.
- Thomas Hadjistavropoulos, Ph.D.
How You Can Help?
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We are looking for researchers to participate in a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the #seepainmoreclearly social media initiative to mobilize knowledge about pain in dementia.
Dr. Thomas Hadjistavropoulos- See Pain More Clearly Team 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).