Assessing Pain in Loved Ones with Dementia

Assessing Pain in Loved Ones with Dementia

Older adults are often affected by chronic pain because they are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions like arthritis. This can cause them to need help from family and friends to perform daily activities such as walking and bathing. But for someone with dementia, it may be difficult or impossible to communicate his or her pain and ask for the help he or she needs. Therefore, it may be up to you as a caregiver to determine if your loved one is experiencing pain.

How to Tell if Your Loved One is in Pain
Careful observation can reveal clues to let you know if your loved one is in pain. Such clues include:
  • Facial expressions - Looking frightened, frowning, grimacing, wrinkling of the brow, closing eyes tightly, blinking rapidly, or any other distorted expression
  • Vocalizations - Moaning, groaning, sighing, grunting, chanting, calling out, breathing noisily, asking for help or becoming verbally abusive
  • Body movements - Rigid or tense posture, fidgeting, pacing, rocking back and forth, restricted movements, changes in his/her walk or mobility
  • Behavioral changes - Wandering, stopping common routines, or changes in sleep or appetite
  • Changes in mental status - Crying, increased confusion or irritability, or acting distressed

Know When Pain Occurs
It isimportant to know if your loved one's pain is caused by movement.
  • During movement - Signs include grimacing or groaning during activities including movement such as walking, bathing, and transferring from one place/location to another like moving from a chair to the bed
  • Without movement - Signs include appearing agitated or behavior changes such as loss or appetite, difficulty sleeping, or reclusiveness

Speaking with a Physician

If you see any of these signs, you should speak to your loved one's physician immediately. Be sure to provide a list of all prescription and over-the-counter medications he or she is taking, including dosages. While speaking to the physician you should be calm, clear and, using examples, focus on:
  • When the pain occurs
  • How it seems to be experienced - Burning, stabbing or aching
  • Whether the pain occurs with or without movement
  • What, if anything, helps to relieve the pain
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