Nursing Homes Undertreat Pain in Demented Patients, Study Finds

A recent study confirms that nursing homes do not properly treat pain in dementia patients.  The study, conducted by the University of North Carolina and published in the April 2008 Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, found that cognitively impaired nursing home patients receive less pain medication than they should.  The study recommended that because pain is more difficult to recognize in dementia patients who often lack the ability to complain or ask for medication, those patients should receive regularly scheduled doses of medications instead of on as "as needed" basis.  Read more about the nursing home pain research. 

The article was careful to caution that the undertreatment of pain in demented nursing home patients does not necessarily mean those patients are being neglected by the nursing home.  I agree.  However, I have represented the families of far too many nursing home patients who received no pain medications or not enough pain relief following injuries that necessarily cause severe pain -- stage III and stage IV pressure ulcers (bed sores, pressure sores, decubitus ulcers) and bad fractures and breaks from falls. 

A nursing home's failure to treat pain in a demented patient in whom the pain can't be recognized isn't negligence, but neglect necessarily occurs when the facility's staff doesn't recognize well-established signs of pain (grimacing, wincing, decrease in appetite, etc) because the staff hasn't been properly trained and educated or when the staff is too overworked at an understaffed facility to treat the pain. 
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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.    

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