Dementia patients “suffering in silence”

University College London | September 2018 | Dementia patients “suffering in silence”

A new study from University College London (UCL) reports that one-third of patients with dementia who may also experience delirium (a state of acute confusion) are frequently unable to express that they are in pain.  The study has originality, as it is the first of its kind  in a hospital context. It has been funded by the Alzheimer’s Society and Bupa Foundation, and supported by the terminal illness charity Marie Curie. The research was conducted in two acute hospitals in the UK and followed more than 200 patients over the age of 70 (via UCL).

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At the outset the researchers asked patients if they were in pain. If the patient was then unable to communicate, researchers assessed people for signs of pain in their facial expression and body language. They recorded the number of people who were unable to communicate that they were in pain, and measured delirium with a standard confusion assessment method.

The researchers found that almost half (49%)  of the participants experienced pain at rest, while a quarter (25%)  experienced pain during activity. A little over a  third (35%) of participants who were delirious and unable to self-report pain,  of these patients 33%  experienced pain at rest, and 56% experienced pain during activity.

The odds of being delirious were 3.26 times higher in participants experiencing pain at rest.

Senior Author Dr Liz Samson from the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department, UCL Psychiatry says, ” In the UK, almost half of people admitted to hospital over the age of 70 will have dementia. We know that they are a high-risk group for delirium and yet delirium is often under treated.”  She elaborated, “It’s deeply troubling to think that this vulnerable group of patients are suffering in silence, unable to tell healthcare professionals that they are in pain.” (Source: UCL)

Read the full story at UCL

The research findings have now been published in the journal  Age and Ageing, where the full article can be read

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