University of Leeds leads pain management study for patients with dementia

Health news

The University of Leeds is to take the lead on improving the care that patients with dementia receive when they are admitted to hospital.

The new study, which will examine how best to detect and manage pain in people with dementia on acute hospital wards, follows an announcement that the Department of Health has made £22 million available to pioneering research projects to boost ground-breaking treatments. 

It is to be lead by Professor Dawn Dowding from the University of Leeds’ School of Healthcare.

Significantly, the study proposes to explore how carers can be more involved in helping improve the care patients’ receive.

At the moment it is difficult for staff working in hospital settings to accurately find out the cause of distress in people with dementia.

Hospital patients who have dementia may not be able to communicate well verbally and may not be able to remember the reasons why they have pain or for how long it has lasted. This makes it even harder for staff to recognise pain, where the pain might be and what might be causing it.

Commenting on the study, Professor Dowding said: “Detecting and managing pain is crucial in improving levels of care. We know that experiencing pain can cause considerable distress and may lead to a number of other problems such as poor sleep and problems with mobility. We need to help staff recognise when a person with dementia is in pain, and then give them guidance on how to treat that effectively.”

Professor Dowding believes the experience and understanding carers will be a key part of the process.

“We need to build on the carers’ knowledge of the person with dementia and explore how carers can be more involved with clinical staff in identifying, helping to manage and recording pain. This study is a vital step towards enhancing the care for patients with dementia because it involves the very people who are best placed to support improvement.”

The study has been funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) as part of the Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme, which funds research to improve the quality, effectiveness and accessibility of the NHS, including evaluations of how the NHS might improve delivery of services.

Further information:

Professor Dawn Dowding is available for interview

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email

For further information on HS&DR Project - 11/2000/05, “The detection and management of pain in patients with dementia in acute care settings: development of a decision tool” can be found here

The co-investigators of the study are:

Professor Dawn Dowding, Dr John Holmes, Professor Claire Hulme & Professor S Closs (University of Leeds), Dr Elizabeth Sampson (University College London), Professor John Keady & Dr Caroline Swarbrick (University of Manchester), Dr Nicholas Allcock (Glasgow Caledonian University), Professor Michelle Briggs (Leeds Metropolitan University) and Dr Anne Corbett (Alzheimer’s Society)