By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Coffee Time (detail) / by S.M. Drawing used with permission of family.

When S.M., a 47-year-old resident at a facility for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, started hitting himself in the left eye, his caregivers weren’t sure why. S.M., whose developmental quotient is equivalent to that of a two- or three-year-old, couldn’t tell them. Some thought he was frustrated at not being allowed to drink as much coffee as he wanted; others thought a recent decrease in his medication—quetiapine (Seroquel)—might be a factor. But a chart review revealed that both his father and brother had a history of cluster headaches. Was S.M.’s behavior an indicator of headache pain? How could clinicians best assess him?

In this month’s CE feature, authors Kathy Baldridge and Frank Andrasik provide an overview of pain assessment in people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, summarize the relevant research, and discuss the applicability of the American Society for Pain Management Nursing practice guidelines for assessing pain in nonverbal patients. The guidelines describe various behavioral pain assessment tools, some of which might be useful with S.M. and others like him. Other assessment methods include

a search for pathologic conditions or other problems or procedures known to cause pain; the observation of behaviors that might indicate pain; and the use of proxy reports (also called surrogate reports) by people who know the person best, whether family caregivers or professionals.

S.M. was encouraged to draw himself and what the “hurt” felt like; two of these drawings illustrate the article (a detail from one is shown above). The authors also profile one facility’s approach to pain assessment of its patients. And they discuss collaborative team solutions with AJN interim editor-in-chief Shawn Kennedy in this podcast interview.

Have you  faced the challenge of assessing pain in patients like S.M.?

Bookmark and Share