Older Adults_Bars-Geriatric Pain

FAST FACTS: Distraction

Distraction is the process of drawing a person’s attention away from one thought, object, or experience and toward a different thought, object, or experience.  Distraction may decrease the experience of pain because of an individual’s ability to process only so much information at one time.

Benefits of distraction:


  • Decreasing pain
  • Increasing relaxation
  • Providing an opportunity to spend enjoyable time with other people

Potential problems with distraction:

  • When distraction successfully relieves pain, some people may doubt the presence or severity of the pain
  • You may become even more aware of pain when the distraction ends
  • You must be ready for and interested in using distraction as a pain relief technique

Methods of distraction:

  • Watching TV or movies
  • Petting an animal
  • Playing games
  • Listening to music
  • Looking at pictures. Pictures may be used in the following way:  
  • Fill a folder or box with pictures from magazines or calendars
  • Keep the folder or box on hand and bringing it out when you need something to do
  • Look at a picture and describe it in any way you choose
  • As soon as you lose interest, choose another picture
  • Use of Humor. Humor may be used in the following way:
  • Create a humor library, cut out favorite cartoons, sayings, jokes, or quotes and put them in an album or folder, bring it out when you need a distraction
  • Watch portions of a funny movie
  • Read sections of a funny book out loud

What else can you do:

  • Develop a list of things you enjoy doing and that make the time go faster which can be used at times of needed distraction
  • Write down and share information about your pain with your healthcare provider
  • Consider using a Pain Diary to note important information useful to the provider
  • Try a non-drug treatment and document the impact on your pain in your Pain Diary


Adapted from: 1. Fouladbakhsh, J.M., et al., Nondrug therapies for pain management among rural older adults. Pain Manag Nurs, 2011. 12(2): p. 70-81. 2. The Nursing Home Pain Management Algorithm Clinical Trial, R01 NR009100,  7/1/05 – 4/30/10; Mary Ersek (PI) Used with permission of Mary Ersek and HPNA (2009). 

Revised 9/2020

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