What are the effects of pain on agitation?

Confusion and/or agitation almost always increase when pain is present. Furthermore, if there’s a sudden increase in confusion or agitation, it should be a tip-off that something wrong is going on physically. Dementia does not typically progress that rapidly.

There is a cycle of pain that gives us a picture of how pain can affect the entire body. It goes something like this: Pain, anxiety, fatigue, depression, pain, anxiety, fatigue, depression, pain … and so on.

If a person who has dementia is in this cycle and unable to let anyone know, we have to intercede and determine what’s really happening.

The sources of pain can be numerous. Most people forget at least a few when listing them. A partial list includes: arthritis (the No. 1 affliction of older Americans), joint and muscle problems, infection, inflammation and headaches. If your loved one has chronic problems or even just a history with any of these conditions, ongoing visits with the physician (who presumably will prescribe some form of treatment) are critical.

Ongoing assessments by a doctor or other clinician are very important. By examining overall health frequently, a clinician can learn whether something like a headache, urinary tract infection or other condition is a sign of something bigger. Be sure to keep the physician informed, even when you’re not going to see him or her in person.

Watch your loved one’s facial expressions and body language since they are common indicators. Something as simple as a flare-up of arthritis or a foot wore can cause a change in behavior.

Also be aware that some medications can cause agitation. Always call a physician if you have any questions or concerns about medication issues or effects. Caregiving involves ever moving targets so constant assessments and questions should be a part of it.

Talking with others in your position can help. Discussions with other caregivers, whether they’re in a support group you’ve joined or are on their own, can be a good source of support. Family members and friends who sincerely care and try to understand are other good resources.

There is no need to think you have to go through these challenges alone. Reach out for, and accept, help often. There are many good sources out there, including this free booklet: “The Indispensable Alzheimer’s Resource Kit.” Click here to get it sent to you for free.