Recognizing Signs of Pain in Seniors Who Have Dementia

Dementia is a widespread illness, primarily affecting seniors. This progressive disease is often misunderstood, since symptoms can vary depending on the person and stage of dementia. As an illness of the brain, dementia affects a person's ability to remember things, think logically, and carry out everyday tasks. In later stages, people can become non-verbal and communication gets increasingly difficult. However, people can live for a long time after dementia is first diagnosed, which is why high-quality dementia care is important.

A component of quality dementia care is being able to recognize when a person who has dementia is in pain. Oftentimes, the symptoms of pain are not expressed verbally but instead as agitated behaviors. Someone in a late stage of dementia may not be able to say, “I am in pain.” Instead, they may lash out or yell or knock something over as a way to get their caregiver’s attention. If this expression of pain is confused for something else, such as stress, then the person with dementia might not receive the pain relief they need.

Signs of Pain in Seniors Who Have Dementia

Different people will express pain in different ways. This sometimes makes it difficult to assess how much pain a person is in and whether their behaviors are related to pain at all. One solution is to always understand that pain can be the cause of a challenging behavior, and to check for causes of pain before treating the behaviors as something else. Below are some common signs of pain in seniors who have dementia:

  • A change in facial expressions, especially ones that signal discomfort

  • Verbalizations of feeling upset or angry

  • Body movements that are not typical or that signal distress

  • Behavioral changes

  • A shift in mental state or emotion

Of course, if a senior with dementia verbalizes specifically that they are in pain, this should always be taken seriously and addressed. Something that may seem small to people without dementia can feel debilitating for seniors who have the disease because their brains are processing things in very different ways.

The abilities people developed to cope with pain are lost as dementia progresses. Pain can appear as agitation, aggression, resistance to care, refusal to eat, sadness, and depression.

How to Address Pain in Seniors with Dementia

Dementia care services enable caregivers to help people manage their pain and other symptoms of the disease, along with their everyday needs. Conducting a detailed assessment at the start of care and continuing to document behaviors and changes will help caregivers understand the way pain is expressed for each person.

Understanding a person’s history and whether they had health conditions prior to dementia will help determine what kind of pain they experience and where. Reports from doctors, other caregivers, and family members can explain potential causes and what treatments have been the most successful in alleviating pain.

There are many ways to address pain in seniors with dementia including:

  • Offering reassurance and comfort

  • Communicating findings to the agency, case manager, etc.

  • Monitoring medication and doses

  • Exploring types of therapy for managing pain

  • Making sure the person is comfortable in their environment

  • Improving or making adjustments to nutrition

Prevention is very important. While pain is not unavoidable in seniors with dementia, it is often possible to prevent painful experiences from occurring. For example, if a caregiver knows that loud noises are painful for the person in their care, then they can avoid loud environments. It is the same with types of exercise or physical activities, such as walking up or down the stairs.

Providing Quality Dementia Care Services

Dementia care at home can help seniors living with dementia maintain their peace, dignity, and happiness. Seeking quality dementia care services is important, in order for seniors to live their best possible lives as the disease progresses. Caregivers at Alegre Home Care undergo specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care training on an ongoing basis, so that they can stay up to date with advancements in dementia care.

If you are looking for dementia care or in-home care services, please reach out to Alegre Home Care at one of our Northern California locations. We provide high quality care you can trust.

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