GUEST COLUMN: Pain is the leading cause of behaviour changes in dementia

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Improving the understanding of how pain affects and changes the behaviour of people living with dementia must form part of the education available to healthcare professionals and family members, says the CEO of medtech company, PainChek®, Philip Daffas.

“Pain tops the list of physical reasons for behavioural changes in people living with dementia*, but it is often poorly recognised and undertreated because of cognitive and communication challenges,” says Philip Daffas of PainChek®, which is the world’s first intelligent pain assessment tool – a hybrid model that uses both artificial intelligence and smart automation, and analyses facial micro-expressions indicative of pain.

“This leads to behavioural and psychological issues, unnecessary prescribing of antipsychotics, and decreased quality of life. Effective assessment and management of pain is crucial to better support high-quality care. With the global population of people living with dementia set to triple by 2050**, everyone, especially the social care workforce, urgently needs support and information about the signs and impact of pain. This also includes how to identify and manage it, to enhance quality of life for people living with dementia and improve the understanding of their carers and loved ones.”

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Speaking on World Alzheimer’s Day (21 September 2021), which this year is talking about the ‘power of knowledge’ surrounding dementia and how it affects behaviour and memory, Philip says more needs to be done to educate the thousands of people touched by Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

“Pain causes significant distress and discomfort for everyone, and for people living with dementia, untreated pain is a significant problem that affects their quality of life and behaviour as they are very often unable to communicate their pain,” Philip says. “It is a daily challenge for carers and healthcare professionals to assess pain in non-communicative individuals.

“Knowledge is power when it comes to pain assessment; and the use of technology to generate and collect meaningful data holds the key to addressing the shortfalls in pain assessment, and helps stakeholders to better understand the individual needs of each person living with dementia.”

Philip believes ensuring those living with dementia and potentially in pain are effectively assessed is critical: “This has been the main driver of PainChek®’s latest research, published in our whitepaper: ‘Pain & dementia: common challenges for care managers’.

“For this, we investigated the complex relationship between pain and dementia, examined how pain affects the behaviour of people living with dementia, and the main issues with assessing pain and how these can be overcome.”

PainChek® uses artificial intelligence to detect the presence of a face and landmark facial features, and then applies in real-time a series of algorithms to detect pain-related action units in images captured through a three-second video. This data is combined with observed non-facial indicators of pain imputed using a series of digital checklists by the user, to enable automatic calculation of a pain score and the assignment of a pain intensity level.

“PainChek® provides real-time data through a medical device in their pocket, and a unique colour-coded pain chart output for each care home resident,” explains Philip. “The system also generates monthly management reports for users, which provide care facilities with data on key statistics including tool utilisation, pain assessment frequencies, and distribution of pain. Other key assessment indicators such as follow-up times and outcomes can be accessed as part of the suite of PainChek Analytics.

“Whilst artificial intelligence is sometimes seen as taking away the human touch,” he adds, “PainChek®’s use of the technology has the opposite effect, by empowering care providers to make informed decisions about pain management and treatment and use the data to plan person-centred, long-term care, as well as giving a voice to those unable to verbalise their pain.”

The Pain & dementia: common challenges for care managers whitepaper is free to download here:

For further information, visit:

*Pain is leading cause of behaviour change – Dementia Support Australia

**Research by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine

***Pain in dementia – Dementia UK

Tags : Dementiapainchek

The author Lee Peart

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