Pain is a hallmark symptom of many diseases and is the most common reason why patients seek medical help. It is a signal the body sends to mean that something is wrong and needs attention. For some, the discomfort they feel is short-lived or mild. In others, however, pain is unrelenting and affects many aspects of their lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 million adults had chronic pain in 2016, and 19.6 million had pain so severe that it significantly affected their daily lives, mental health, and the way they act.
Caregivers spend the most time with patients and play a vital role in managing their discomfort so that, even amidst their diseases, they can have the best quality of life possible.
If you think that your patient is in pain and are unsure of what to do, here are some beneficial tips:
1. Be alert for signs of pain.
Some patients cannot communicate well or feel that their discomfort must be endured, so they won’t tell you directly. Caregivers should watch out for signs of pain including grimacing, frowning, writhing, restlessness and agitation, moaning, groaning, and whimpering. Patients’ muscles may also appear tense. If you see these signs, tell your supervisor or nurse immediately and document your observations.
2. Ask if the patient is in pain.
Not all patients will report their distress, but most answer truthfully if they are asked. So, ask directly, "Are you in pain?" and if the answer is “yes” even after taking their pain medication, tell your supervisor or nurse. The patient may not be getting adequate relief, so the physician needs to prescribe a higher dose or a new drug for effective control.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this step is to believe what the patient says about how they feel, because some people still manage to smile even in pain.
3. Help the patient take their medications on time.
The best way to help patients relieve their discomfort is to remind them when it is time to take their pain meds and assist when they take them. Those who strictly follow their schedule can receive continuous relief.
4. Make the patient comfortable.
Be gentle when moving them, especially if movement worsens the pain. Help your patient wear clothes that are easy to put on and take off. Smooth the creases on the bed. Adjust the room temperature if needed.
5. Provide a distraction.
Keeping the mind and body busy will help take focus off the negative sensations. The simplest way to distract patients is to talk to them about their interests.
Let them do most of the talking by using open-ended questions and statements, such as, "How did you feel back then?" and "Tell me more about your favorite TV show." Encourage them to elaborate by asking, “And then, what happened?” and “What did you do?”
Let them use gadgets and devices for games and social media. Play your patient’s favorite movies and songs. If they have pets, help them interact with their animals. If your patient has no travel restrictions, take them places (per agency policies). Take short walks. Also, encourage them to attend social events and activities.
6. Let them rest comfortably.
Do not push beyond what the patient can tolerate or overdo it on days they feel fine. If pain worsens, stop whatever activity you are doing together and let them rest. Help them get a good night’s sleep, too.
7. Use relaxation techniques.
Caregivers can help patients relax by guiding them through deep breathing and mindfulness exercises, a combination of deep breathing and being consciously aware of body movements, such as relaxing muscles. If you are unsure of how to proceed with these techniques, always consult your supervisor or nurse before going ahead.
Helping patients live pain-free is perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments you can have (and the most caring way to show compassion) as a caregiver. With your efforts to relieve patients of their discomfort, they will experience a better quality of life and be in a better place to interact with you, and others!
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