Dementia Care – How to Identify Pain in Dementia Patients

It isn’t always easy to identify pain in an elderly person who has Dementia. A person with dementia (or Alzheimers) can’t always tell you they have a toothache or remember how they got hurt in the first place. However, anyone can become a better pain detective when they know what to watch for.

Signs Of Pain For Dementia Care:

  1. A change in facial expression. Is the person grimacing? Are they wearing a slight frown or sad looking face? A distorted expression or sudden rapid blinking can be indicators of pain.
  2. Verbalizing or making unusual sounds. Watch for heavy sighs or moans and groans. Sudden calling out or verbally abusive outbursts can be puzzling behaviors but they are sometimes the only way a demented person can express that they are hurting.
  3. New or unusual body movements. From obvious gait or mobility problems to rocking back and forth, there are many ways a person could be using body language to “tell you” they are in pain. Watch for increased fidgeting or pacing.
  4. Pattern changes in daily activities. Sudden changes in appetite or not wanting to eat should be noted, especially if the change persists. Wanting to sleep or rest repeatedly can also point to chronic pain.

Unfortunately, dementia itself comes with the risk of developing a painful condition, with decreased mobility being the major culprit. First, there is the increased risk of accidents and falls but lack of mobility can also lead to problems like: constipation, joint stiffness, pressure sores and even contractures (muscles and joints that have shortened and tightened.)

A Proactive Approach

Since detecting pain in a person with dementia isn’t always easy, you might want to opt for a more proactive approach to dealing with possible painful conditions. Follow these simple but effective steps to keep your loved ones pain-free:

  • Change a person’s position often to prevent rubbing or pressure points.
  • To prevent sore joints and muscles encourage movement of arms and legs. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can offer an easy to follow daily routine.
  • Apply body lotion regularly. Dry, chapped skin can be painful and skin breakdowns that produce open wounds carry the added risk of infection.
  • Our bodies need water. Proper hydration can prevent headaches, while improving digestion and lowering the possibility of bladder infections.
  • Learn safe methods of moving someone in bed or helping them to stand from sitting. That way you won’t risk hurting yourself or the person you are caring for.

Whether you suspect a loved one with dementia is dealing with a painful condition or your goals are to prevent pain from ever rearing its ugly head, you can bet they appreciate your efforts to solve their pain puzzle.

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About the Author

Christie SartoriChristie Sartori RN, MSN, FNP-BC, OCN (Family Nurse Practitioner) Has been in the medical field for many years and has worked in Medical Oncology, GYN Oncology, Adult as well as Pediatric, and many other outpatient and inpatient settings.View all posts by Christie Sartori →

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