How to Help Someone With Dementia Avoid Unnecessary Pain in the Hospital
Five important ways caregivers can improve pain management
Many hospitalized people experience pain. After all, pain can be caused by chronic problems (like arthritis), an injury (such as a broken hip), or an acute illness (like diverticulitis, a common inflammation of the colon). For some, pain is present all the time. For others, it's associated only with certain movements, like getting out of bed.
Studies show that older adults are often undertreated for pain, especially if they have dementia.
The trouble is that people with dementia often have difficulty communicating pain. They may not remember the pain when hospital staffers come to ask about it. Or they may consistently deny being in pain ("Oh, I'm all right"), even though careful observation of their activity and facial expressions tells another story. What's more, studies show that hospital staff often fail to assess pain correctly or follow up on evidence of pain, partly because of poor training in pain management.
There's absolutely no need, however, for anyone to soldier through intense pain while being hospitalized (or after!). Proper treatment of pain is essential because untreated pain can cause delirium. It can also mask underlying health problems or affect a patient's ability to participate in the physical therapy that's needed for recovery.
How to ensure your loved one gets properly treated for pain
1. Don't take "I'm fine" for an answer.
If your loved one denies being in pain, watch for other telltale signs:
Grimacing, wincing, frowning
Moaning during sleep
Favoring a body part
Avoiding moving a certain way
Being more confused than usual
Loss of appetite
2. Promptly inform hospital staff if you suspect your loved one is in pain.
You know your loved one better than they do. You know which behaviors are unusual. You see him or her more continuously than any hospital staffer while you're at bedside. Trust your instincts and your observations.
Don't wait until the next time the doctor rolls around; your loved one shouldn't have to suffer needlessly. Tell a nurse right away.