• The Care Company

How To Detect Pain in the Elderly When a Loved One Has Dementia


senior woman with dementia being comforted by caregiver
Pain in the elderly may be overlooked due to dementia.

You find a senior loved one with dementia rocking forward and backward, refusing to eat, and repeating the same words over and over again. While these can be typical dementia-driven behaviors, they can also be signs that indicate pain in the elderly.


The communication disconnect that often occurs in a senior with dementia can make it difficult or impossible for a senior to describe what’s hurting. Or it may be that the older adult has lost the capability to recognize or remember the sensation of pain. Sometimes, the fear of having to face a hospitalization, to take more medications, or to be moved to a nursing home will prevent an older adult from sharing the pain being experienced. It may even be simply a matter of pride for an older adult who is still in a position to communicate effectively, but believes she or he should deal with the pain alone.


Whatever the reason, it is critical to know the signs to watch for and seek medical attention to eliminate any health-related concerns. Along with those mentioned above, look out for signs such as:

  • Groaning or whimpering

  • Grimacing, tense or frightened facial expressions

  • Crying

  • Yelling

  • Tightened fists

  • Ignoring activities

  • Combative behavior

  • Heightened confusion

  • Being inconsolable

  • Protecting a specific body part

  • Pacing/restlessness/wandering

  • Labored breathing and/or higher than usual heart rate or blood pressure levels

The older adult might be experiencing pain from a chronic health issue, recovery from a medical procedure or recent injury, an illness or infection, or simply just an everyday issue including constipation, stomachache, headache, etc.


If these or other concerning behaviors are recognized in an older adult you love, contact his or her doctor immediately for support in addressing the main cause associated with the issue. There are a number of prescription-free ways that could be helpful (with the doctor’s approval and guidance), that can include:

  • The use of cold packs or heating pads

  • Massage or gentle exercise

  • Air or gel cushions along with more frequent position changes

  • OTC pain relievers

Additionally, sometimes soothing activities can be helpful in distracting the senior from any discomfort, such as listening to favorite music or a book read aloud, visiting with a friend or family member, or pet therapy. Even just changing the older adult's environment by moving outside to the porch or garden can be all it requires to regain contentment.


The dementia care specialists at The Care Company are skilled in detecting changes in condition in the adults we serve and in keeping seniors with dementia comfortable, safe, and content. Contact us at (416) 422-2273 for a dependable partner in Toronto senior home care, and learn how we can help a senior you love.