Instructions detailing the use of the Pain Thermometer to assess pain intensity for persons able to self report and is the best choice for most older adults.

Purpose: This scale is used to assess pain intensity in persons who are able to self report1 and is the best choice for most older adults.

When to use: Use the Verbal Descriptor Scale (Pain Thermometer)

  • At initial intake/admission to services
  • For an older adult in pain, assess at least every 8 hours
  • Any time a change in pain status is reported
  • One hour following a pain intervention to assess effectiveness
  • For older adults residing in long term health care settings, assessments should be completed at each quarterly review

How to use: Ask the older adult to point to the words on the thermometer to show how bad or severe their pain is right NOW. Compare the words chosen after each use to the previous words to evaluate if pain has increased or decreased.

Documentation: Document/record all scores in a location that is readily accessible by other health care team members.

Note: To use as a pocket guide, print the Pain Thermometer and directions document front to back on card stock paper to create two tools. Cut to size and laminate for increased durability.

Reference: Herr, K., Spratt, K. F., Garand, L., & Li, L. (2007). Evaluation of the Iowa Pain Thermometer and Other Selected Pain Intensity Scales in Younger and Older Adult Cohorts Using Controlled Clinical Pain: a Preliminary Study. Pain Medicine (Malde, Mass.) 8(7), 585-600.

1 Self-report of pain is defined as the ability to indicate presence and/or severity of pain verbally, in writing, or by other means such as finger span, pointing, head movement, or blinking eyes to answer yes or no questions.

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