Talking to the doctor about your pain and discomfort can be hard. It’s difficult to describe, and rating it on a ten-point scale often doesn’t feel like enough. It should be no surprise, then, that it is even more challenging to describe the pain of others to a doctor.

A recent study from The Journal of Patient-Reported Outcomes found that family caregivers and their loved ones often had a disconnect when it came to describing discomfort to physicians.

The importance of communication

The basis of the study was to see how often family caregivers and their loved ones agreed on what to tell the doctor about their pain, discomfort, and symptoms. This discussion isn’t an easy one, especially when family caregivers are taking care of someone with cognitive issues. The caregiver may have to infer or assume certain things or be tempted to downplay or emphasize certain things based on their experiences as a caregiver.

Handling these conversations can be a difficult line to walk between giving a physician the correct information and respecting the wishes of the loved one. Nobody wants to introduce a source of tension into their relationship with their loved one, but it is also critical that physicians get the information they need to best care for their patients.

What the study found

The researchers conducting the study found that patients and caregivers — typically children and spouses —  only agreed on the severity of pain, depression and anxiety symptoms between 50% and 60% of the time. This means that caregivers and their loved ones had a fundamental disagreement on what to communicate almost half of the time.

Looking closer, the study found that there were significant differences in how caregiver/patient pairs evaluated physical pain and psychological stress. Generally speaking, there was more often agreement on physical symptoms such as injuries and illnesses than on psychological symptoms like anxiety or depression.

One of the most interesting findings was that caregivers tend to err toward the middle of the pain spectrum. In many cases, family caregivers overestimate the severity of their loved one’s discomfort for less severe symptoms and underestimate the severity of their loved one’s discomfort for more severe symptoms. In other words, they tended to believe minor issues were much worse than they actually were, and more serious issues weren’t as bad as they were being made out to be. 

This bias toward a middle-of-the-road average is human nature, but it’s important for family caregivers to know this about their own psychology. It can cause unnecessary stress on everyone to overemphasize the importance of small issues and it can cause a serious medical problem to not take major issues seriously.

When in doubt, believe your loved one

The lesson here is that family caregivers should, in most cases, defer to their loved ones when they are describing their pain or discomfort, especially when it comes to psychological issues. Unless your loved one suffers from a cognitive issue where they can’t accurately communicate how they are feeling, it is better to do less interpreting and more listening.

Health and Vitals Monitoring

Connected Caregiver makes it a little bit easier to communicate the daily health and vitals of a loved one to their doctor. When enrolled in Health Monitoring, which allows family caregivers to seamlessly track the daily vital readings of their loved ones, caregivers can easily export and print health trend reports and bring them to their loved one’s doctor appointments. This is just one of the helpful features found inside Connected Caregiver Health Monitoring.