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 a person’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
  • The individual may become even more aware of pain when the distraction ends
  • The individual 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 bring it out when your family member need something to do
    • Have your family member look at a picture and describe it in any way they choose
    • As soon as your family member loses 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 your family member needs a distraction
    • Watch portions of a funny movie
    • Read sections of a funny book out loud

What Else You Should Do

  • Write down and share information about your family member’s pain with their healthcare provider
  • Use a Pain Diary to note important information useful to the healthcare provider
  • Encourage your family member to try a non-drug treatment and document the impact on their pain in their Pain Diary


  1. Adapted from: 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). 
  2. Stanford Health Care. 2021. Management of Pain without Medications. Accessed 2.21.2022.

Revised January 2022

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