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Digital health technologies may help with some aspects of pain management in older people

Bhattarai P, Phillips JL The role of digital health technologies in management of pain in older people: An integrative review Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2016 Jul; 68:14-24

Review question

  • What are the features of digital health technology (DHT) in the management of pain in older people, is there evidence supporting its use, and what are the barriers and facilitators to its implementation?


  • Older people often face chronic pain due to conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and cancer. This chronic pain decreases quality of life and contributes to depression, reduced mobility and disability. In addition to difficult individual effects, these consequences contribute significantly to healthcare costs and lost productivity.
  • DHT, such as medical or public health practices supported by mobile devices, can be used by older individuals to help manage their pain, such as by consulting mobile applications to seek health information online.
  • This study aimed to assess whether DHT has the potential to effectively facilitate pain management in older people.

How the review was done

  • A detailed search of five electronic databases for studies published up to and including August 2015 was conducted. Studies that focused on older people using DHT for pain management purposes were included.
  • A total of 1,003 studies were identified in searches, and nine were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.
  • The authors make no mention of a funding, financing or supporting source.

What the researchers found

  • This review found that computer-based video interventions were the most common form of DHTs used. Video interventions that had an educational, interactive or instructional component were used most often. Amongst older people, educational video interventions were preferred.
  • Overall, the review states that there is insufficient evidence to conclusively say DHTs are effective in managing pain in older patients. Despite this, the review found low-level evidence indicating that the use of DHTs could increase older patient ability to describe their pain. Additionally, watching pain management videos was associated with increased confidence in pain self-management, though these findings are somewhat inconclusive.
  • This review also found that some barriers to implementation include concerns relating to the battery life of electronic devices. Older people also preferred to be trained on the device they are using, rather than have the device adjusted to their needs. A final facilitator that may support the implementation of these technologies is having open, close contact with clinicians.


  • This review found some evidence supporting the use of DHTs to help with pain management in older people, particularly in increasing patient ability to describe their pain and increasing patient confidence in pain self-management. The review also found that the most common type of DHTs in pain management are computer-based interventions.

Related Topics

Related Web Resources

  • Managing Pain From a Broken Hip: A Guide for Adults and Their Caregivers.

    This patient decision aid helps older adults (more than 50 years old) who is in a hospital because of a hip fracture decide on methods of managing pain. It outlines options such as using acetaminophen, opioid analgesics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and other treatments and compares the benefits and side effects associated with each option
  • Breast pain

    Mayo Clinic
    Breast pain affects many women and is often caused by hormone changes. Breast pain is unlikely a sign of breast cancer. Choose a well-fitting bra, try hot or cold compresses, relaxation and pain relievers. Speak to your doctor if the pain persists or gets worse over time.
  • Bursitis

    Mayo Clinic
    Bursitis causes painful swelling and stiffness in joints like the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee, and is more likely as you age. Treatments include medication, physical therapy and - in extreme cases - surgery. Tips for prevention and home remedies in this resource.
DISCLAIMER These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

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