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"As a hospice nurse caring for people in their homes, I have seen many patients with dementia who suffer from distressing pain," said study author Lauren Hunt, a physiological nursing Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing.
"I was motivated to conduct this research study to understand the issue from the broader national prospective. It turns out that pain is very common in this population and is frequently severe enough to limit activities," she said in a university news release.
Hunt's team analyzed data gathered in 2011 from more than 800 Medicare enrollees, aged 65 and older, who had dementia but still lived at home. Sixty-four percent of them had bothersome pain, and about 43 percent had pain that limited their activities.
Among seniors without dementia who lived at home, 55 percent reported bothersome pain and just 27 percent had activity-limiting pain, the investigators said.
Factors associated with bothersome pain included arthritis, heart and lung diseases, symptoms of depression and anxiety, low energy, disabilities that interfere with daily living and having less than a high school education, the study noted.
Among those who reported pain, more than 30 percent never or rarely took pain relief medications, according to the study, published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
More than 30 percent of the dementia patients never went outside. More than 60 percent required assistive devices, which made traveling to a doctor's office difficult.
Innovations are needed, the researchers said.
"The extensive challenges associated with the assessment and treatment of pain in older adults with dementia will require creative solutions from researchers, clinicians and policymakers to ensure pain is being adequately managed in this vulnerable population," study senior author Dr. Alexander Smith, an associate professor of geriatrics at the university, said in the news release.
-- Robert Preidt
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