RECOGNIZING AND MANAGING PAIN IN PEOPLE WITH MEMORY LOSS
Just like many other older adults, people with memory disorders like Alzheimer's disease suffer from headaches, stomachaches, toothaches, muscle cramps and other painful conditions that are an uncomfortable part of the aging process.
However an older person with memory loss who suffers from chronic pain may not be able to tell her caregiver how she feels or asks for help to relieve her discomfort. Instead, she communicates her distress with moans, crying, becoming agitated, stubborn or combative, refusing to eat or take part in daily activities she usually enjoys.
SYMPTOMS OF PAIN
Signs that your parent may be suffering from unrecognized physical pain include:
- Loud, raspy breathing
- Calling out for help
- Fidgeting, pacing, rocking back and forth, restlessness
- Difficulty walking
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Refusing to eat
- Moaning, groaning, crying, sighing
- Rubbing the painful area
- Facial grimaces
- Aggressive behaviors
- Avoiding other family members
Caregivers are often concerned and upset by these puzzling behaviors. They can't understand what might have triggered them and what they can do to soothe their older relative and help him or her feel better. Unfortunately those who are suffering may not be able to tell their caregivers what is causing their pain.
IDENTIFYING PAIN TRIGGERS
Recurring or persistent pain is not a normal part ofthe aging process. It is a sign that something is amiss with your relative's physical health that requires the attention of a physician. A doctor can diagnose the cause or causes of your relative's painful symptoms and develop a treatment plan that will relieve her discomfort and allow her to lead a more active and pain-free life. Before the appointment make a list of your parent's symptoms, significant behavior changes you've noticed, and questions you have. Bring along a notebook or small tape recorder so you can write down what you learn at the appointment. Have the following information on hand for the doctor:
- When you first noticed pain-related behavior changes
- How often and when they occur. How do they affect your parent's daily life
- What you think triggers these behaviors
- What situations, activities or events make the behaviors better or worse
- How can behavior changes caused by pain be managed
Side effects of certain pain medicines can also affect an older adult's behavior. Bring along all your parent's medications including prescription and over-the-counter remedies so the doctor can determine if they might be contributing your parent's distress.
PAIN AND DEPRESSION
Be sure to tell the doctor if your parent has been diagnosed with depression. Recent research shows that chronic pain and depression often occur together in older adults. Managing your parent's pain may also relieve her symptoms of depression.
PAIN MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES
The doctor may prescribe medications to control your parent's pain and suggest strategies for diverting his attention from his discomfort. He or she may also offer educational materials to help you understand your relative's condition and develop strategies for everyday pain management like mild exercise, massage therapy, warm baths, hot or cold packs, or heating pads.
Other non-drug pain relievers include gentle exercises and stretches to improve muscle strength, increase heart and lung fitness, and improve balance. Daily activities will also help your parent sleep better at night.
BANISHING ACHES, PAINS, AND TWINGES
It's difficult to see an older parent, relative or spouse suffer not only from memory loss but also chronic pain each day. As a caregiver, you can use a variety of techniques and strategies to relieve his distress and help him take pleasure in his daily round of activities comfortably and free of pain.
A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News.