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Mar 2, 2020

Identifying Pain Symptoms

by Gary Skole


Just because an individual can't tell us where it hurts, doesn't mean they are pain free.  It's important to be aware of the warning signs to identify and treat pain. 


The best way to assess pain by family care partners is through their familiarity with the individual with Dementia. Simply knowing and understanding the person to whom care is provided can help you detect warning signs that they may be in pain..

For the individual experiencing pain, facial expression and body language, moods, changes in mental status, activity patterns or routines can be signs that require further investigation. Moreover, behaviors and vocalizations, such as grunts and groans, can speak volumes.

Care partners should evaluate their loved one while they are at rest and during movement, noting anything that is out of the norm for that individual. The most common pain indicators are listed below.

  • FACIAL – Clenched teeth, furrowed brow, grimaces, scowling look, frowning

  • NON-VERBAL VOCAL COMPLAINTS – Non-verbal noises such as signs, groans, moans, crying, winces, yelling, screaming

  • VOCAL VERBAL COMPLAINTS - Words or phrases such as: ouch, stop, no, that hurts or cursing

  • BODY LANGUAGE - Clenched fists, holding a particular area of the body, rubbing or massaging the affected area. This could include restlessness, rocking, position shifting, inability to remain still, slow movement, or withdrawing the painful body part from touch

  • BEHAVIORS - Hitting, slapping, grabbing, punching, kicking, pushing, pulling, biting, pinching

Other changes in behavior may include disrupted or restless sleep, lethargy, or increased sleep. Additional warning signs may include displays of increased irritability, anger, agitation, or aggression.

Just because someone can't tell us about their pain doesn't mean they aren't experiencing any. It's important to be aware of the warning signs so pain can be identified and treated. As a caregiver, you also need to recognize and monitor any pain you may experience, as well as any other health issues.

About the Author

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Gary Skole

Gary is a founder of AlzBetter with decades of experience improving care for patients with challenging healthcare needs at home. He is a published author and frequent speaker on Dementia, Transitional Care Management, and Patient Engagement.