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Managing Pain

Physical pain is common in many older adults due to arthritis, joint and bone diseases, and lack of movement. While people with mild memory problems can provide accurate reports of pain, those with moderate to severe memory and thinking problems have difficulty understanding and reporting their pain. Behavioral and non-verbal signs often indicate that the person with dementia is hurting or in pain.

Daily caregivers are often the first to observe pain. Pain is more likely to be seen while daily care is being delivered, when a person gets in or out of a chair or bed, or as the day progresses. When given routinely, pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be very effective. In addition to routine medications, a variety of comfort measures also can be helpful:

  • Distracting activities help the person focus on something more pleasant. Examples include listening to favorite music or watching birds in the garden.

  • Relaxation can help relieve pain. Effective relaxation techniques include listening to favorite music and providing a light hand or foot massage. Try placing a warm blanket or towel over sore joints. Use care when applying heat to avoid a burn.

  • Movement and positioning must be addressed closely as the person loses ability to move freely. Anticipating the need for movement, frequent change in position, or taking a few steps can be helpful in preventing and relieving aches and pains. Finding a favorite chair and using pillows for positioning also can help.