Can the person with late-stage Alzheimer’s Dementia Feel Pain?


Can the Person with Alzheimer’s Dementia feel Pain?

I’m often asked if someone with Alzheimer’s Dementia can feel pain.  In later stages of their disease, they may be very animated and display more than a few odd behaviors, yet they seldom complain about pain. Even some professionals believe it is because they don’t feel pain.

My own mother had arthritis in one knee which stayed swollen to double it’s normal size. Yet, if asked how she was doing–Mom never mentioned that painful knee. My only clue that she was suffering at all  was the grimace on her face, or the way she held and rubbed that knee.

During later stages of Alzheimer’s and Dementia a person loses many of their verbal skills.  They can’t remember the correct word they want to use and by the time they think of the word, they’ve forgotten the pain.  The short term-memory that they do have may last no longer than a few seconds. Sometimes they forget they are in pain before they remember how to craft a sentence to let someone know.

So–just because they don’t tell us they are in pain, doesn’t mean they don’t suffer pain.

To take care of a middle to late stage Alzheimer’s or Dementia sufferer, we need to look for other “non verbal” clues if we think they may be in pain.

  • Is the person limping?

They may have a sprained ankle, injured knee, etc.

  • Do they moan or groan or make other sounds of pain when they eat, or walk, or go to the bathroom?

They may have a bad tooth, ill fitting dentures, constipation or UTI (urinary tract infection) a common and constant illness for the person with dementia.

  • Do they clench their teeth or clamp their jaw at intervals when they move, then suddenly relax when they reach a new position?

That could mean a sharp pain, or pulled muscle that relaxes when they shift their position.

  • And if their behavior is suddenly different– Do they cry a lot, are they agitated and irritable much more than usual?  If so — it’s a clue

If you are a care-giver and your family member or loved one shows any of these signs or symptoms, they may be in pain. Try to investigate further and judge the severity of their symptoms. Often, a family physician will allow a call to his/her office or phone consult with his nurse where you can explain the persons behavior. Meanwhile, keep the patient as comfortable as you can because he/she can certainly feel pain.

They may not be able to tell you where they hurt or describe the symptoms, but they do feel pain and generally their attitude or other behavior is a good sign of how they feel.

If you’ve had experience with pain or other issues –Let us know!

We like hearing other opinions or hints for caring for the person with memory-loss who suffers physical pain as well


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  1. Anonymous says

    I am the enemy most all the time. I am so all alone. I have the skills to deal with Dementia, I am just loosing my will to go on & continue to be a caretaker.

    • says

      Hello, I’m very sorry and do understand. I know how you feel and know too that you are a brave soul to step forward and be caregiver for a loved one. Sounds like you might not be taking care of yourself.

      If you don’t have relatives who can give you some respite, perhaps your loved one can stay at a day-care a couple days a week. You must take care of yourself to be able to care for someone else.

      I hope you’ll contact friends or family and reach out for some time for yourself.

      Our thoughts are with you,


  2. ~ Sandy says

    Glad you enjoy the blog! Yes, we are on Twitter at @sandyalz. Hope to see you on Twitter


  3. says

    I can’t imagine the frustration of not being able to communicate pain. Is it possible that at this point the thought of communicating their pain does not occur to them?

    • ~ Sandy says

      I agree. It would be horrible to have pain and not know what to do, or how to let someone know. My mom had some painful episodes in the last year of her life and it was a constant worry to me; “was she in pain and unable to tell me?” Generally, I could see it in her eyes or the way she’d wince or rub a certain area.

      I hope all those with Alzheimer’s have Caregivers who love them and pay attention to more than words. Not just those with Alzheimer’s but anyone in need of a Caregiver.


  4. says

    Our dad had Vascular Dementia I am sure he definitely felt pain, just by looking in his eyes, his body language and the way his face would contort. He didn’t have to tell us with speech,we were his family. we knew

    • says

      You have that exactly right, Caroline. Often we sense many things about our loved one without any words at all. We see it in their eyes, or the way the tug at their clothes, or wince when you touch them.

      They definitely feel pain, but are often unable to tell us.


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