Researchers at University of California San Francisco have revealed that elderly people with chronic pain show quicker declines in memory as they age and are more likely to experience dementia years later. They claim, ‘Persistent pain increases the risk of dementia by altering brain pathways’.
Researchers interviewed 10,065 people over 62 in 1998 and 2000, asking whether they suffered “persistent pain”. Persistent pain is defined as being often troubled with moderate or severe pain. They tracked their health through 2012.
After adjusting for many variables, they discovered that compared with those who reported no pain problems, people who reported persistent pain in both 1998 and 2000 had a 9 percent more rapid decline in memory performance. Furthermore, the probability of dementia in this group of elderly with chronic pain increased 7.7 percent faster compared to those without pain.
Dementia is not a single disease in itself, but a general term to describe symptoms of impairment in memory, communication, and thinking severe enough to interfere daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.
First author Elizabeth Whitlock, a postdoctoral student at the University of California, said that there needs to be more done to protect against aging adults from cognitive decline. She added patient reporting ongoing pain may be higher risk for current and incident cognitive impairment and physical debility. Clinicians need to be aware of this association, which persisted after extensive statistical adjustment for confounding health and demographic factors.
The study does not prove cause and effect. However, chronic pain may divert attention from other mental activity, leading to poor memory.