Age-Related Differences In Accuracy Of Retrospective Pain Reporting

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In standard clinical practice, healthcare professionals rely heavily on retrospective self-report methods when assessing and treating pain. Older adults, who are particularly at-risk for a number of painful conditions, may have difficulty accurately reporting pain after a delay for a number of reasons, including declining memory ability. It is therefore of vital importance to understand factors which may influence the accuracy of retrospective pain intensity reports specifically within an older adult population. The purpose of this study was to assess whether age related differences in retrospective pain reporting exist and if so which specific mechanisms drive this effect. In order to do this, an experimentally manipulated heat pain was induced and participants were asked to rate the intensity of this sensation immediately after pain onset and then again one week later. We also assessed depression scores, presence of a pain comparison point, memory ability, specific memory processes, and cognitive status to see how these variables were related to differences in pain-reporting. Results revealed that older adults showed a tendency to over-report pain after a delay, whereas younger adults were more likely to under-report. This finding was not related to memory scores or cognitive status, and instead this effect may be driven by older adults experiencing a higher level of current pain at the time of reporting than young adults. Additionally, both older and young adults with higher depression scores showed a tendency to overestimate pain levels after a delay, most likely due to a mood-congruency recall bias. Beyond this, results also revealed that when both older and young participants rated pain with reference to a framework of previously experienced pain across the lifespan as a comparison point, they were more likely to under-report the specific instance of pain. These results suggest that agerelated differences in retrospective pain reporting do exist, and the broader implications of this are discussed.

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Pain; Memory; Aging


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Developmental Psychology

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M.A., Developmental Psychology

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Master of Arts

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Government Document




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