Chronic pain in Canadian seniors

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by Pamela L. Ramage-Morin



This study describes the prevalence of chronic pain among seniors living in private households and in long-term health care institutions. Associations between an increase in chronic pain and unhappiness and negative self-perceived health are examined.

Data sources

Data are from the Health Institutions and Household components of Statistics Canada's 1994/1995 through 2002/2003 National Population Health Survey (NPHS) and 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS).

Analytical techniques

Prevalence rates of chronic pain were estimated using cross-sectional data from the 1996/1997 NPHS and the 2005 CCHS.  Multiple logistic regression was used to model an increase in chronic pain in relation to quality of life outcomes, controlling for chronic conditions, medication use, age, sex, proxy response, and socioeconomic status.

Main results

Thirty-eight percent of institutionalized seniors experienced pain on a regular basis, compared with 27% of seniors living in households. In both populations, rates were higher for women than men. An increase in pain over a two-year period was associated with higher odds of being unhappy or having negative self-perceived health at the end of the period.


Chronic pain is a major health issue for seniors, particularly those in health care institutions. The reduction of pain symptoms, independent of the presence of chronic conditions, would have a positive impact on the well-being of seniors.


Aging, cross-sectional studies, epidemiology, health surveys, logistic models, longitudinal studies, pain, prevalence, self-perceived health, unhappiness


Throughout our lives we experience pain. It could be a temporary discomfort such as infant colic or a more chronic level of pain resulting from injury or disease. Although not pleasant, pain may be protective, helping us survive. As a symptom of injury, illness or disease, pain motivates us to seek treatment and teaches us to change our behaviour—the child who touches a hot surface, for example, learns to avoid further injury and heed parents' warnings. However, pain may be chronic and destructive, serving no useful purpose for survival. Pain is usually considered chronic if it lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 months or more or, alternatively, if it persists after an injury has healed.    [Full text]


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Pamela L. Ramage-Morin
Health Information and Research Division
Statistics Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6
Telephone: 1-613-951-1760