There are a number of symptoms that can go along with dementia. Confusion is the symptom that’s most associated with the condition, but there are other troubling ones that need to be taken into consideration too.
The top of this list could very well be pain. According to a recent report, many dementia patients suffer from pain symptoms that go undetected and untreated. What’s worse, these pain symptoms are usually chronic in nature. Many dementia patients have diseases that cause joint pain and spinal pain. Fractures are another source of pain, as is cancer.
For a patient already dealing with the devastating effects of dementia, chronic pain can usher in sleepless nights, loss of appetite and an increasing reliance on the healthcare system. In fact, pain may be part of the reason that dementia patients are sent to long term care, never to return to their homes. It’s estimated that half of all people with dementia have chronic pain.
A person with dementia is often “written off” by a medical community whose resources are already stretched to the limit. However, experts are now challenging the way in which we care for those with limited cognitive ability. Patients with dementia deserve to be respected. Medical staff are now searching for long term care measures that allow dementia patients to maintain their dignity, hold onto their life story, and keep their connection to family. Recently added to this list is respecting a dementia patient’s perception of pain and suffering. Just because the mind is impaired, doesn’t mean that the body is numb to pain or the mind doesn’t register suffering due to physical discomfort.
For the report, 1,800 people with dementia and their caregivers were analyzed. Patients and caregivers alike voiced many concerns. The researchers categorized these concerns into five categories: getting a diagnosis, accessing support and services, meeting information needs, attitudes of health care providers, and disease management. To improve these areas, researchers suggest that there should be dementia-care managers assigned to primary care teams at hospitals and other care facilities. They also cite the need for psycho-education for caregivers to reduce the stress and depression they often feel when caring for a loved one with dementia.
As for treating pain symptoms, dementia patients may need specialized care. Normally opioids and other pain relievers are prescribed to ease chronic pain. But research has shown that people with dementia are less able to tolerate many of these prescribed pain relievers. This is because dementia sufferers can experience atrophy to the body and brain, along with liver and kidney problems that can impair the uptake of certain drugs.
The onus will fall on medical staff to be able to judge and balance doses of other medications that could help relieve pain symptoms. How this specialized staff will be trained remains to be determined.
If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia, be aware that pain symptoms may be lurking underneath the general confusion and mental distress. Get support in the management of all the symptoms of dementia, including those which affect your well-being as a caregiver.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“Pain relief in dementia patients needs more skilled care,” CBC News web site, Sept. 23, 2013; http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/pain-relief-in-dementia-patients-needs-more-skilled-care-1.1864633, last accessed Sept. 24, 2013.
Kapusta, P., et al., “Behaviour management in dementia,” Can Fam Physician. December 2011; 57(12): 1,420–1,422.