Dementia patients experience severe or chronic pain but studies have shown they often receive fewer pain relief medications than healthy senior adults. This is in spite of the fact that other studies have shown that their incidence of pain is actually higher than other seniors, possibly affecting 45% to 80% of dementia sufferers. The reason seniors with dementia are not as likely to be treated for pain is probably due to the difficulty dementia patients often have verbalizing their pain and discomfort as compared to healthy seniors. Dementia patients usually have difficulty with memory and verbal capacity, two important factors in pain reporting. Therefore, dementia patients are often unable to report when they are experiencing pain, and, even if they do report it, may not be able to accurately report the level of pain, as they may not fully understand the pain scales most health care professionals use.
Another issue with pain identification in the elderly is that their symptoms may actually be different than they would be in a younger person. Therefore, for seniors with dementia, the effects of pain can easily be misidentified as symptoms of dementia. Individuals who are in pain may become more aggressive or depressed, and pain may cause mental impairment like lack of focus. Pain is normally the body’s way of saying that something needs our attention, and, therefore, unidentified pain can leave a condition or infection untreated, causing an increased risk of complications in the dementia sufferer. If left untreated, pain can cause mental and functional decline and even reduce mobility.
Indicators of pain
Dementia patients can and do experience all different types of pain. Regardless of the source, the person suffering from dementia may provide family members and home care providers with some clues that the person is experiencing pain.
Senior care providers can help monitor seniors with dementia and notify family members that there are pain indicators present. There are some specific pain indicators that seniors with dementia may show:
- Dementia patients who are in pain may show it in their facial expressions. Squinting, closing one’s eyes or furrowing one’s brow may be evidence that he or she is feeling pain.
- Dementia patients who are feeling pain may become more vocal, with an increase in groaning, calling out, or moaning.
- A person with dementia who is in pain may have more labored breathing or greater difficulty breathing.
- The dementia patient may show evidence of the pain in their body language by crouching, fidgeting, remaining very still, limping, or being extremely restless.
- The demeanor of the dementia patient may change by becoming more aggressive or verbally abusive. These responses can be a kind of defense mechanism or occur because the person is unusually upset due to the pain.
Outside home care professionals are usually trained to identify these types of changes in the seniors under their care and can notify family members and their home care agency supervisors when noticed. Healthy habits including exercise and proper nutrition can form part of a good pain management plan. A home caregiver can help a senior suffering with pain by making sure the senior takes medications they have been prescribed, helping with daily tasks like healthy meal preparation, and keeping the senior active through walking or other exercises. Assistance from a home care professional can help manage the senior’s pain and reduce worry and anxiety for their family members.
Assisting Hands Home Care – Fort Myers, provides home care services in Fort Myers, North Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Estero, Cape Coral, Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Sanibel, & Arcadia, Florida.