Pain is an everyday reality for many seniors, Pain can occur frequently as a result of a medical condition, such as arthritis, or simply from general aches and muscle pain. Stress commonly exacerbates factors involved in pain related maladies. Therefore, it stands to reason that Alzheimer’s caregivers are particularly at high risk for pain as they age. But, what about the pain experienced during routine doctor visits?
If you or a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) visits the physician on a regular basis, you may be interested in learning about a recent study that identified factors related to stress, pain and trusting one’s physician. The new study pointed to some interesting findings about patients who trusted the health care provider (physician). The patients, who felt connected with their doctor, reported a lower level of pain when receiving uncomfortable procedures (such as a needle stick), than those who did not have a high trust level.
Influenial Pain Factors
Science daily posted a new study that discovered the connection one has to the physician could make a difference in the level of pain experienced from medical procedures received. In other words, when a patient visited a doctor who is perceived as trustworthy, (particularly when there is a connection such as shared religious, cultural or religious beliefs), medical procedures were reportedly less painful.
The study entitled, “Feelings of clinician-patient similarity and trust, influence pain: Evidence from simulated clinical interactions,” was conducted by Dr. Elizabeth Losin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences.
Losin attempted to uncover social and cultural factors that could influence the experience of the level of pain in patients receiving medical care by simulating patient/physician interactions in the lab. These experiments were performed primarily to find ways to lower the level of pain and fear patients commonly report when visiting their doctor.
The research was inspired by literature about how patients with ethnically and racially consistent health care providers reported higher satisfaction in the level of care received. However, these studies did NOT include any statistics on outcomes (such as pain level), “Pain also has a psychological component as well, and it’s the interaction between the psychological and physiological aspects of pain that we’re really interested in,” Losin said.
Losin observed that patient/physician interactions commonly transpire over a short time span, without enough time to form any type of deep emotional connection.
“You go to the doctor’s office and you have to get a procedure that is painful and scary,” said Losin. “We want to know how the doctor-patient dynamic, in this case, how the doctor and patient perceive one another, might affect how much pain the patient feels from that painful medical procedure. If the patient feels they have something in common with their doctor, is that enough to actually change how much pain they feel?”
The Reasearch Study
For the study, Losin gathered groups, based on core beliefs and values of participants, by administering a questionnaire on political ideology, religious, and gender role beliefs. Participants were then separated into groups and told they were placed in groups with other study participants having similar beliefs and values. The goal was for people in the same group to feel they had something in common with their fellow group members.
Next, participants were divided into groups of 2, with one playing the role of the physician and the other acting as if he/she was the patient. Each pseudo physician interacted with a role-playing patient in his/her own group, then again with a fake patient from one of the other groups (comprised of participants who did not have common values or beliefs). During the fabricated clinical interactions, the role-playing doctors performed a simulated pain induced procedure (by applying heat to the lower forearm).
“After the interaction, we asked both the doctor and the patient how similar they felt to each other and how much they trusted each other,” said Losin. “We predicted that patients would report being in less pain when they had a doctor from their own group than a doctor from the other group. We also expected less pain if the patients trusted their doctor more and felt more similar to them.”
Results of the study were congruent with Losin’s hypothesis. Those who felt more connected and trusted their pseudo doctor ended up reporting lower pain levels. The study also found that the participants who had higher anxiety levels in general, (before the study) experienced a greater reduction of pain from trusting their physician than those who did not have high anxiety on a day to day basis.
If you are a caregiver who is searching for a new physician for a person with AD, it’s important to keep in mind that stress contributes to AD risk factors and can exacerbate symptoms. Choosing the right doctor for regular medical visits can help promote a stress-free environment for your loved one.
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