Pain and Dementia- When Communication Gets In The Way

by | Aug 15, 2020 | Dementia, Dementia Behaviors, Pain

Helping a senior in pain can be challenging. But when pain and dementia are both a part of the picture it can be especially hard. Knowing if someone is in pain when they can’t communicate is very frustrating. And this is for both the patient and the carer. Someone with dementia may not have the language skills to let their carer know they are in pain.  Likewise, they may say something else, thinking they are saying the right thing.

More Chance of Falls or Other Injuries

People with dementia are often at a higher risk of falling and other injuries. They may become sore and stiff from sitting in the same position for hours at a time.  And if they can’t tell you, their pain my go undetected.

When this happens, they may try to communicate through other methods.  As such, they may start to exhibit bad or disruptive behavior. This could be shouting or yelling, knocking things over, or acting out aggressively.

They may also start to withdraw and avoid contact with people. Any of these behaviors can be understood to simply be a part of dementia. And it may not be recognized as an indication there is something else wrong.


Signs Someone With Dementia May Be In Pain

Pain and Dementia

If you are caring for someone who has dementia, there are signs you can look for that may well be indications they are in pain.


  • Aggressive, combative, refusing care
  • Withdrawn
  • Refusing to interact with people
  • Socially inappropriate, disruptive behavior
  • Increased confusion
  • Irritable or angry
  • Crying


Also, they may have trouble walking or a noticeable limp or change in the way they walk. They may be favoring a certain part of their body. Additionally, you may notice they are more fidgety or restless.

They may not be willing to move or seemingly unable to do so. There may be a limited range of motion or much slower. And they may be sweating, refusing food, or a change in their appetite.

They may be rocking, pacing, or wandering around aimlessly. There also may be a change in their sleeping patterns, like more or less. Restless sleep at night or more naps during the day.

Keep an eye on their facial expressions, too. Frowning, grimacing, clenching their teeth, or even rapid blinking. Verbal indicators could be moaning, sighing, and crying. Include swearing and asking for things that may not make sense but they are still asking for help.

The person with dementia has likely already gone through many changes both physically and emotionally. Their behaviors are likely much different. It can be increasingly frustrating for someone to slowly lose the ability to communicate and they will try to find another way.


It’s important to consider the changes they have already experienced and factor those into the ones begging exhibited as they try to express themselves.


Tools For Care Partners and Caregivers

Pain and Dementia- Caring for elderly Mom

Senior woman gets a kiss from her loving adult son who has come to visit her in the nursing home.


There are ways to check if someone is comfortable and not in pain. Some daily things you can do:


  • Check regularly that dentures fit properly
  • Make sure that clothing is comfortable
  • Check clothing for zippers, tags, and buttons that may cause discomfort
  • Make sure that footwear is appropriate and comfortable
  • Check toenails and fingernails for snags or ingrown nails
  • Observe that hearing aids and eyeglasses are working and fit
  • Encourage gentle movement of arms and legs by bending and stretching regularly


Regular gentle exercises and stretching are great ways to not only prevent pain and stiffness but to help ease it. Move the person around when they are sitting for long periods of time. That will help prevent stiffness and bedsores.


Try to engage their minds throughout the day. Many people will be difficult stages but mental stimulation of any kind will still help. It will help the carer to better understand their level of communication and notice if anything seems out of place.


A hot water bottle or heating pad can also provide a lot of relief with someone who seems to be aching and sore. It can also be very comforting a soothing for someone who is uncomfortable or scared.


Learn To Read The Signs

Some people with dementia can still communicate, it will just be in a different way. If you can still hold conversations with them make it as easy as possible.

Turn off all other distractions in the room. Television, radio, and talk in a quiet room away from other family or outside noises like traffic. Sit in relaxed positions close to each other.

Make sure they can see your face and talk clearly and slowly. Even asking a direct question may not give you the answer you are looking for, but they are still trying to communicate.

You will need to understand what other signs mean. Grunting, anger, crying, or answers that appear to be nonsense might be that they are using the only words they remember.

If you suspect they have fallen or are in some other kind of pain, always consult a professional.

The staff at Sycamore Creek Ranch is proactive. That means we are not waiting for a problem to arise. Instead, we are actively engaged with each and every resident. And with only 16 residents we can do that!  Come for a tour at Sycamore Creek Ranch! See how we can help!

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