People with dementia or memory loss don’t always communicate their pain the way they used to, which can cause frustration and a whole host of other problems for the senior themselves, their families and their caregivers. Sometimes people with dementia say that they aren’t hurting, even when they are. Changes to their brain affect how pain is perceived.
Pay attention to the non-verbal signs of pain, even if the person denies they are hurting. Although they may not recognize the pain, it can still affect them profoundly. Relieving pain can make a big difference in their behavior, functioning and quality of life.
Non-Verbal Signs of Pain
Pain in a person with dementia often comes out in their behavior. Common behavioral and non-verbal signs of pain include:
- Agitation or crankiness
- Striking out
- Resisting care
- Frequently changing positions, or won’t sit still
- Frequent moaning or sighing
- Heavy or labored breathing
- Grimacing or furrowed brow
- Stiff, rigid movements
- Sleepiness or sleeplessness
- Holding or “guarding” a particular body part
Scientists recognize that pain is a major contributor to challenging behavior in people with dementia. Pain can interfere with a person’s ability and desire to participate in activities they enjoy, or even take care of their own basic needs.
Pain is Undertreated in Dementia
Pain often goes unrecognized in people with dementia. Alzheimer’s and dementia doesn’t affect how much pain people with dementia feel, but it impairs their ability to communicate it. Researchers have shown that about half of people with dementia experience chronic pain, but multiple studies show that many people with dementia receive far less pain medication for the same conditions as people without it.
Family Caregivers can Help Recognize and Communicate Pain
Knowing what to look for in terms of signs of pain, and then communicating these observations to the person’s doctor is an important step in helping your loved one find comfort. Keeping a log can be especially helpful for tracking pain behaviors. Keep a notebook listing dates, times and circumstances surrounding each behavior or sign of possible pain.
Consider if the person has any old injuries, or if they used to have chronic pain. If they are limping, holding or guarding a certain body part, that can be a clue to what might be hurting, if they are unable to describe it.
Senior Care can Help
Family caregivers for people with dementia often carry a big load, emotionally, spiritually and physically. This can be all the more so when the person with dementia has chronic pain or challenging behavior. Calling in senior care for respite care, back up, or even help with housework can help a lot when it comes to managing the day to day responsibilities amid everything that is going on in a family caregiver’s life.
Senior care aides are trained and vetted by the agency, and can help with a variety of services, which can be customized to meet your exact needs.
- Bathing, dressing and other personal care
- Incontinence care
- Housework, laundry and bed changes
- Errands and shopping support
- Activity engagement for dementia
- Respite care
Experts recommend family caregivers take advantage of respite care opportunities to keep up their own physical and emotional health – which can in turn translate to better care for their loved one.