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10 Dec 2018

How To Recognise Pain In People With Dementia

How To Recognise Pain In People With Dementia

Pain is a natural part of human life; it’s a natural human sensation and one that everyone has at one point or another. There are different kinds of pain that we can experience, these include mental pain - also known as emotional pain - which is usually linked to grief, for instance. There’s also physical pain - which is what most people think of when a person refers to pain occurring. Physical pain usually stems from an illness or accident, such as a broken bone.

Usually managing pain is a simple process: the pain is identified and a treatment plan is put in place. However, when the person has dementia, the process of diagnosing and treating pain, or the condition causing it, can be a far more complicated process. The issue is that when someone has dementia, often in the later stages of this condition their communication skills begin to break down.

Someone with dementia can often be unable to identify that they are in pain, or if they are able to understand the cause of their discomfort, they can struggle to communicate the fact that they are in pain or show where they are in pain. For instance, if they were left alone for a small period of time, they could have had a fall and hurt themselves but are unable to recognise the feeling of pain, or they have completely forgotten that they have hurt themselves.

As mentioned above, another serious issue with pain and dementia is a lack of communication skills. When someone has dementia, it can be extremely difficult for them to communicate in the way in which they used to do so, which can mean it’s extremely difficult for them to express that they are in pain. Or if they can tell someone that they’re in pain, it can be difficult for them to explain where the pain is coming from, which can make treating it extremely difficult.

The good news is that although it can be difficult to determine if a person with dementia is in pain, it’s not impossible. There are steps that you can take to ensure that when it comes to spotting pain in people living with dementia, you know how to do so.

For everything that you should know about spotting the signs of pain in people living with dementia, have a read of the tips and advice below.

Know what signs to look out for

One of the most important factors to bear in mind when it comes to determining if someone with dementia is in pain is that you will most probably need to spot the signs of them being in pain yourself. For example, if you notice that a person with dementia has all of a sudden become more aggressive or irritable than usual, this is a sign that something isn’t right and could point towards them being in pain.

Of course, just because this suggests that something isn’t right, that doesn’t mean that it’s definitely being caused by pain. Knowing how to recognise pain in someone with dementia who you live with or care for one-to-one is hard enough, recognising it in a care environment can be even harder.

However, that being said, as a rule of thumb the following behaviour can suggest that someone with dementia is in some type of pain. These can’t pinpoint where that pain is, but they can help you to identify pain, which can make a diagnosis and treatment slightly easier.

  • Being angry or seeming frustrated
  • Loss of appetitie or having stopped eating
  • Protective over where they are touched
  • Tearful when being touched or when moving
  • Having a temperature

What it’s important to realise is that not only do these factors suggest that a person is in pain, but they can also help you to determine part of the cause of that pain.

If a resident is angrier or more frustrated than usual, this could signify that they feel upset about something, such as pain that they cannot express to you. Or, if someone has a smaller than usual appetite, this suggests that they may have a virus making them feel nauseous or that the pain may be radiating from their mouth, teeth or throat. Should you notice that the person is very overprotective of a certain area, then it’s important to consider whether this could be the part of their body that’s causing them pain. If they are tearful when moving, then it could be that they’re suffering from joint pain. If you notice that they have a temperature, this could be a sign that they are suffering from a virus or infection of some kind.

Make communication easier

It’s also important to ensure that when it comes to determining whether a resident is suffering from pain that you know the best ways to communicate with them. While methods such as blood tests, x-rays and applying pressure to different areas of the body can help you to determine where the pain is radiating from, it’s not always enough.

When communicating with a person with dementia, it’s important to speak slowly and clearly and use short, simple sentences. Ensure that before you ask any questions that you have their full attention. If a person with dementia feels overwhelmed and confused, they can withdraw from a conversation and stop taking part, so it’s important that you are careful about how you phrase things.

If the person struggles to reply, ask them yes or no questions so that they can nod or shake their head. For instance, you could point to different areas of their body and ask them ‘does it hurt here?’ and hopefully, they should be able to point you in the right direction.

When it comes to recognising the signs that a person with dementia is in pain, it’s not always easy to determine whether there is pain and where it’s coming from, which is why the tips and advice above can be so useful, as they can help you and your team to better understand the needs of residents with dementia who are suffering from pain. 

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