Do individuals with Alzheimer’s disease feel pain?

Alzheimer’s disease does not cause pain itself, but a person with the disease can experience pain from other sources. It is a great challenge to assess if the affected person is having pain because of the obstacles he/she faces in communication.

There are, however, signs of discomfort to look, such as changes/worsening of behavior, moaning and screaming, uncommon restlessness and/or refusal to do certain activities. It is good practice to observe the affected person’s typical daily facial expressions and movements when they are not in pain.

These observations could serve as some “baselines” and when something changes — agitation occurs, grimacing or noticeable distressed facial expressions — then the caregiver could assume there’s some kind of pain.

Additionally, look for physical cues, such as bruises, swelling or redness.

A drastic change in personality, lethargy and/or loss of appetite could be an indication of an illness or distress.

If pain is suspected, consult a physician before giving over-the-counter pain medications. Ibuprofen, for instance, can affect an older adult’s kidneys and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also be unsafe. Most of the time, acetaminophen is the preferred pain medication for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Over-the-counter “PM” (night) medications can be detrimental.

The “PM” versions of Advil, Excedrin and Tylenol, which contain sleep medication, can also cause side effects, such as constipation, dry mouth, difficulty in urination and confusion and can increase the risk of falls in an elderly person. These medications, in particular, counter the effect of typical medications prescribed for Alzheimer’s, such as Aricept and Namenda.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.