Senate Alzheimer's panel addresses pain in dementia patients

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Speakers at the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging's Alzheimer's forum Wednesday discussed the importance of detecting pain in dementia patients, among other topics.

Panelist Dr. Patricia A. Grady told the panel that it can be difficult to identify symptoms of pain in adults with advanced dementia and stressed the importance of treating that pain. She cited a study that discussed the discrepancy between observed pain behaviors in patients with dementia and patients without.

“In this study, cognitively impaired older adults self-reported less intense pain after movement activities, such as walking and sitting, than cognitively intact older adults,” Grady said. “However, behavioral observations of pain, such as grimacing and verbal complaints, showed no differences between the two groups. This suggests that commonly used self-report measures of pain may underestimate pain in older adults with dementia.”

Loren Shook, vice chairman of The Assisted Living Federation of America, told the panel that meeting the psychosocial needs of dementia patients should be a priority. Shook said dementia care providers should promote patient independence, offer caregivers a supportive company culture, provide a homelike atmosphere and plan age-appropriate activities.