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People living with dementia feel pain, just like everyone else. But it might be hard for them to understand or explain their pain. If you care for someone with dementia, or if you have dementia, there are things you can do.

Causes of pain include: 

  • arthritis
  • old injuries
  • back problems
  • foot issues
  • gum disease and dental problems
  • infections
  • constipation or urinary tract infections
  • pressure sores, or sitting or lying in one position for too long
  • migraines or headaches
  • mental health conditions.

Recognising pain in someone with dementia

If someone you care for with dementia is in pain, it can be hard for you to spot. But there are things you can do.

Start by asking them. Ask regularly, not just once, and try using words they might understand. These could include “uncomfortable”, “hurting”, “aching” or “sore”.

They might not be able to tell you if they’re in pain, so you might need to look for other signs, including:

  • crying or distress
  • shouting or moaning
  • facial expressions or gestures, like grimacing or frowning
  • changes in behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn, frustrated or angry
  • lethargy, sleeping more or sleeping less than usual
  • protecting a body part or being reluctant to move
  • eating less or refusing food.

What you can do

If you think the person you care for is in pain, talk to their doctor. They will be able to make an expert assessment and work out the right treatment.

If their pain is mild, like a headache, it’s generally safe to use pain relief, like paracetamol. But if you’re in any doubt, call the doctor.

If the pain is more significant or has been continuing for a while, you may need stronger medication. Only your doctor should advise you on this, as they know the other medicines involved and how they interact. Always follow your doctor’s advice about medication.

If your pain is ongoing or chronic, make sure you visit your doctor regularly. This lets them assess you and continue to tailor your treatment.

There are also other options that can help with mild to moderate pain. These include:

  • massage
  • heat or cold packs
  • gentle exercise and stretching
  • physiotherapy
  • acupuncture
  • relaxation
  • baths.

It’s okay to take care of your own health and happiness. If you're struggling as someone who cares for a person with dementia, contact the free, confidential National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500, any time of the day or night, for information, advice and support.

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Last updated
17 January 2024