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Recognizing Signs of Pain in Dementia

Young doctor examines senior patient's leg

As verbal and cognitive functions decline, how do you know if a person living with dementia is in pain? It was once thought that people with dementia don’t feel pain the way we do; we now know this isn’t the case. People with dementia indeed experience pain, but often have a difficult time articulating those feelings.

For some, distressed vocalization may be an indication of pain. For others, asking simple “yes” or “no” questions while gently pushing on the area of discomfort may help determine if there is an issue. But beyond verbal cues, what signs should we be aware of?

It may be as simple as noting a marked change in behavior or body language. Does Dad favor a limb or wince when you help him stand? Is your loved one guarding specific body parts and pulling away at your touch? Perhaps they are aggressive when being assisted or resist when getting in and out of bed. Other signs may include reduced appetite, increased blood pressure, or general restlessness. It is important to make your doctor aware of these changes, as they may be an indication of underlying pain or discomfort.