Half of People Diagnosed with Dementia May Be Living with Undiagnosed Chronic Pain

A new report has been published investigating the relationship between people with dementia, their pain, and their behavior. And the results are nothing less than shocking.

Australia-based pain assessment company PainChek is working to raise awareness of how important it is to effectively assess pain in people with dementia. The company investigated the relationship between pain and dementia in their investigation, and their findings are outlined in their report, titled “Pain and dementia: common challenges for care managers.”

“At least 50% of people living with dementia in the UK’s 18,000 care and residential homes regularly experience pain,” explains Professor Jeff Hughes, chief scientific officer at PainChek. “Dementia affects around 850,000 people in the UK and is the country’s biggest killer. Currently, around 70% of care homes residents have dementia or memory problems. 80% of these suffer pain at any one time, and 50% experience persistent pain.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/fizkes

PainChek has developed facial analysis technology and pain assessment software to help identify and manage chronic pain in patients who have trouble communicating verbally.

PainChek’s hope is that helping care homes manage their patients’ pain will also help them turn around patterns of bad behavior. They believe if they can manage elderly people’s chronic pain, they should be able to improve the lives of both the patients and their caregivers. They may also help people get the correct diagnoses, as some people are falsely diagnosed with dementia due to negative behaviors.

“Patients with dementia who cannot communicate their pain may have complex and/or subtle behavioural changes such as restlessness, changes in body language, speech and sleep patterns, appetite and facial expressions, all of which indicate the presence of pain,” says Professor Hughes.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Satjawat

“Many people with dementia struggle to communicate, so are frequently unable to verbalise their pain. This can lead to the emergence of behaviours and psychological symptoms like aggression, agitation, loss of inhibitions and anxiety, which are all too often attributed to the Alzheimer’s or other dementias, and not considered as an indicator of pain.”

A recent Department of Health study found that roughly 80 percent of antipsychotic prescriptions given to elderly people were unnecessary and inappropriate. Treating their chronic pain may in many cases lead to an improvement in behavior and lessen or eliminate the need for these drugs.

It’s unbelievable and very sad that so many people get the wrong diagnosis simply because of the behavior problems caused by undiagnosed pain that these elderly people are unable to communicate to their doctors and caregivers. We sincerely hope that PainChek’s new technologies can be effective solutions to this problem so that elderly people can get the pain relief they need and avoid being treated for illnesses and problems they don’t suffer from.

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