First Time User? Enroll now.
COVID-19: Vaccine information and additional resources | Medicaid: The program is changing and you must take steps to keep your UNC Health providers
Home > Health Library > Dementia: Assessing Pain
Dementia is a loss of mental skills that affects daily life. It can cause problems with memory and with how well a person can think, plan, and communicate.
Usually dementia gets worse over time. How long this takes is different for each person. Some people stay the same for years. Others lose skills quickly.
A person with early-stage dementia may have trouble finding the right words.
As dementia gets worse, so do problems with words and thinking. A person may say things that don't make sense. He or she may also have trouble knowing what others are saying.
When dementia is severe, a person can't communicate with words and may not be able to answer yes/no questions with gestures. When this is the case, it's a person's behavior that hints at his or her needs and feelings. You may find that the best ways to communicate are with your presence, touch, and tone of voice.
The easiest way to learn about someone's pain level is to ask and get an answer. But when someone has severe dementia, communicating can be difficult. Memory problems can also get in the way.
But there are ways you can assess pain with few to no words. The more you get to know a person, the better you can understand his or her signals.
Be calm and supportive. Pay attention to your tone of voice. A person with dementia is still aware of emotions and may become upset when sensing anger or irritation in your voice.
If your attempt to connect seems to upset the person, follow the cues you're getting. Stop trying to connect. You can try again later.
Using simple questions
Watching for signs of pain
People with severe dementia often express pain in ways that you wouldn't expect. To learn about a person's pain, get to know his or her own behaviors and habits.
Someone with dementia might express pain with:
When you know a person with dementia, you can see behavior changes that others don't always notice. Your knowledge is a valuable resource for a doctor trying to assess and treat this person.
If you see changes in behavior, expressions, or activity that may be signs of pain, contact your dementia care team right away. It's important to diagnose the cause. It may be pain, but there may be other causes, such as infection, that also would need prompt treatment.
Current as of: April 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Kathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineChristine Fordyce MD - Family Medicine, Geriatric Medicine
Current as of: April 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Christine Fordyce MD - Family Medicine, Geriatric Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.