Alzheimer’s disease patients receive less pain relief medication as they report pain less often due to altered pain perception. The study found that Alzheimer’s disease may change a person’s ability to experience pain or recognize that they are in pain. This is problematic because the concomitant health issues may go undetected, causing further complications.
In the study that carried on for three years, researchers tested two groups of adults over the age of 65. One group consisted of Alzheimer’s disease patients and the second – control – group did not have Alzheimer’s disease.
The participants were subjected to different heat sensations and then were asked to report their pain levels.
First author Todd Monroe said, “We found that participants with Alzheimer’s disease required higher temperatures to report sensing warmth, mild pain, and moderate pain than the other participants. What we didn’t find was a difference between the two groups in reporting how unpleasant the sensations were at any level.”
The subjects in the Alzheimer’s group were less likely to recognize pain.
Monroe added, “While we found that their ability to detect pain was reduced, we found no evidence that people with Alzheimer’s disease are less distressed by pain nor that pain becomes less unpleasant as their disease worsens.”
Additional research is required to further explore pain perception in Alzheimer’s disease patients. The researchers recommend that physicians use a variety of tests to assess pain sensitivity in their patients – especially in those who have problems with verbal communication.
Monroe concluded, “As people age, the risk of developing pain increases, and as the population of older adults continues to grow, so will the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We need to find ways to improve pain care in people with all forms of dementia and help alleviate unnecessary suffering in this highly vulnerable population.”
Pain assessment in Alzheimer’s disease patients
Determining whether a patient with Alzheimer’s disease is in pain could be difficult, so it is important to find a way to assess pain when direct verbal communication is not an option.
It could be difficult to determine if a patient with Alzheimer’s disease is in pain and so assessing pain in patients by other means that direct verbal communication is essential. Here are a few pointers caregivers should be on the lookout for.
Body language and facial expressions: wrinkling of the eyebrows, blinking quickly, and other unusual expressions.
Body motions and physical gestures: stiff posture, limited mobility, and squirming or fidgeting.
Behavioral: changes in appetite and sleep schedules, and changes in regular routine.
Emotional and mental: crying, anxiety, depression, confusion, and irritability.
Sounds and noises: moaning, sighing, grunting, aggressive language, and frequent calls for help.
Picking up on these cues could provide insight into the pain a patient may be experiencing. As mentioned above, identifying pain is crucial for Alzheimer’s patients as it could signal additional health problems that require attention. If left untreated, the patient will end up with a diminished quality of life, along with aggravated health complications.