As one that does a number of lectures on countless topics related to your loved ones with dementia, I have to confess that one of the most popular is the one I do on “Understanding Behaviors.” Today we’re going to drill down on just one of the specific reasons your loved one may be acting or behaving like they are, and that’s pain. Over the years, I’ve noticed that pain being considered as a cause for an aberrant behavior is often overlooked, and I have no idea why.

Again, I’ll remind you that I am NOT an M.D. and I have no plans to pass myself off as one. As you consider what I’m about to share with you, please remember to always check with your loved one’s physician first. No one should know them better than they do.

We all know the old saying “we aren’t as young as we used to be,” and that’s particularly true of those with dementia. Although there are cases of early onset dementia being reported as beginning in their 30s, dementia is more common in those over the age of 65. Now I can’t speak for you, but I’ve led a very active life. From my days of playing football and wrestling in school, working on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier launching planes on three tours to Vietnam to building my own home, cutting, splitting and stacking wood for the last 40 years, you get the idea. Like all of us, now that I’m on the right-hand side of 65, I have to confess that things are beginning to catch up to me. For example, after I get my wood delivered, I take the time to stack it. Good exercise right? At the time it seems like a good idea, but the next day, not so much. I ache and even hurt in all kinds of places. Then there is dealing with the wear and tear that life blessed us with. A trick knee here, a tennis elbow there, and oh joy, an arthritic lower back. Who said it? “Aging isn’t for sissies.”

The good news for us is that we have the ability to hop out of bed in the morning, albeit slowly, go to the medicine cabinet and grab the over-the-counter medication of our choice and deal with the issue. Furthermore, we’re able to communicate with our loved one that we hurt from head to toe today, so maybe we should attack moving the furniture on the deck or going for a walk on the beach tomorrow. Your loved one with dementia may not be able to do that. By that I mean, communicate with you that they are in pain. The Social Care Institute for Excellence states that “pain is one of the most common symptoms people with dementia experience. Often it is poorly recognized and under-treated in those with dementia. The main reason for this is, as dementia progresses, the person’s ability to communicate their needs becomes more difficult.” I’ll add that not only do they have difficulty articulating that they have pain, but they may not understand what you’re saying when you ask them if they have pain. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if you and I are waking up every morning with everyday aches and pains, so are they? Ergo, would a daily something, approved by their physician, make things better for them?

What are the signs to look for? Vocalizations, facial expressions, body language, consolability and breathing. Are they yelling out? Wincing when they walk or stand? Protecting themselves from contact? Breathing heavy or hard to calm down after becoming agitated? Pain could certainly be the cause, so don’t ignore it. It’s one more thing you can do to improve their quality of life, and they deserve that.

Questions? Email me at repe@careforcaregivers.org. Join the Journey.

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