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Chronic pain is a widespread problem that affects millions of people around the world. It can be debilitating and prevent people from participating in everyday life. It’s also more likely to affect aging and elderly adults who may not be able to articulate the pain they’re in. As such, family caregivers are often tasked with assessing and managing their loved one’s chronic (or acute) pain. This presents an added challenge for them due to the subjective nature of “pain.” 

It is vital for you as a family caregiver to have proper support when caring for someone impacted by chronic pain, both physically and emotionally. This will help you help your loved one find relief from their condition, and ensure you don’t stress yourself out for fear of getting it wrong. Having compassionate and knowledgeable resources available to you can make a significant difference in providing effective care and reduce stress on your end. Let’s talk about the complexities of pain management and how to properly assess pain in your loved one.

Understanding the Complexities of Pain Management

Understanding pain management is a complex process. There are a lot of multilayered tasks involved. Pain management requires communication between the healthcare provider and the patient to form an appropriate plan of action. 

You as the family caregiver also play an essential role in pain management, serving as an advocate for the patient by providing insights into their condition on a day-to-day basis. 

It can often be difficult for caregivers to juggle multiple roles to provide support for a loved one who is suffering from debilitating pain. Nonetheless, your contribution to the care of a loved one battling pain should not be undervalued. Navigating the challenges associated with chronic pain can be made easier with compassionate care and attention.

The Need for Simple and Accessible Pain Assessment Tools

Family caregivers get frequently tasked with assessing and managing the pain of their loved ones, but often lack the necessary tools to do so. A recent rapid review of literature conducted by medical professionals highlights this issue, revealing that the vast majority of existing pain assessment tools are complex in nature and not suitable for family caregivers. (Source

To help with this, we’ve collected some examples of such tools that healthcare providers use that an be adapted or used by family caregivers at home:

  • Visual Analogue Scale (VAS).
    This is a simple pain assessment tool that involves using a line divided into ten chunks. The scale ranges from “no pain” to “worst pain imaginable.” Patients are then asked to mark the point on the line that best represents their current level of pain. 
  • Numeric Rating Scale (NRS).
    The NRS is very similar. It’s another 0-10 rating scale used to measure pain intensity. Patients are asked to rank their pain on a scale from 0 (indicating no pain) to 10 (indicating worst possible pain).
  • Faces Pain Scale – Revised (FPS-R).

This is a simple tool that can be used to help assess pain in nonverbal or cognitively impaired people. This test uses a series of faces that range from happy to sad to help them identify and share the level of pain they are currently experiencing. 

The BPI is a more comprehensive and complex pain assessment tool. It’s typically completed by medical professionals and assesses the severity of pain in addition to the impact of pain on daily activities. The BPI can be adapted for use by family caregivers to help you assess your loved one’s pain, but it may take a bit more training to use it properly. 

It’s important to note that while these tools can absolutely be helpful for assessing your loved one’s pain, they are not meant to stand alone. They should be used in conjunction with your other observations and any information you have about your loved one’s condition. That’s why additional training, support, and communication with a healthcare professional is so important. 

Supporting Your Loved One with Chronic Pain

Supporting a loved one living with chronic pain can feel overwhelming and full of unknowns, especially when navigating the healthcare system together. There are several strategies that can help manage their chronic pain, ranging from medication to physical therapy to lifestyle changes. As you continue along this journey, it is important to keep detailed records of medications, dosages, and any side effects along with communicating regularly with their healthcare providers and team members. This will help you better recall and declare any issues that could arise down the line.

Finding Resources to Help You Manage

As a family caregiver of a loved one with chronic pain, it can be difficult to know where to turn for help. It is important to remember that you are not alone in this journey and there are resources available to support you. 

  • Utilize the various resources (like our CRCs) that are available.
  • Try local support groups or online communities. Being connected to a larger network of support can greatly ease the challenges faced by both patients and family caregivers alike.
  • Reach out to your loved one’s team of healthcare professionals with any questions.  

As a community, it is vital that we remember the important role that family caregivers play in supporting those with chronic pain, providing additional means of care and understanding that those affected may need during this time. 

Closing Thoughts

The need for simple and accessible pain assessment tools is indisputable, as without them caregivers may be unable to assess their loved ones accurately or provide adequate support. 

We hope that this article has provided you with a better understanding of how to assess pain in your loved one. But if you have questions or want support connecting to additional resources, we encourage you to reach out to us and ask any questions you may have. 

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