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Pain a Problem in Alzheimer's Disease

Undertreated Pain Plagues Alzheimer's Patients Who Hurt, but Can't Tell

How to Recognize Alzheimer's Pain continued...

"We traditionally assume that individuals without verbal ability don't have the same pain we do. That is not correct," Edwards tells WebMD. "These patients do have the capacity for pain. Their pain is relevant, and it is deserving of evaluation and treatment."

Fortunately, Edwards says, it's possible to tell when a person is experiencing pain -- even if that person isn't able to tell you about it.

Doctors can use a tool called the Pain and Discomfort Scale or PADS. It's a system for evaluating pain based on facial expressions and body movements.

But people caring for someone with Alzheimer's diseaseAlzheimer's disease or other dementias can do an even better job than doctors can.

"Caregivers have an incredible capacity -- even beyond doctors -- to know the behavior of the person they are caring for and to look for the times they are in discomfort or pain," Edwards says.

The trick is to watch the facial expressions and movements of patients when they are not in pain, both during sleep and waking hours.

"Then, using that as a baseline, be attentive to circumstances where they seem agitated, where eye contact is altered, where there is grimacing or a facial expression indicative of discomfort," he advises.

Once a caregiver notices pain, Edwards recommends seeing a gerontologist to help find a pain treatment regimen. Or, as he prefers to call it, a "comfort regimen."

"Pain is subjective," Edwards says. "But when we suspect it, we can treat it. The goal is to seek the patient's comfort rather than the total elimination of pain."

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