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Alert Senior Citizens: Chronic Pain Linked To Memory Loss

Older adults who are persistently troubled by moderate or severe pain show diminished memory function.

Alert Senior Citizens: Chronic Pain Linked To Memory Loss

Memory loss in older adults with chronic pain

Older people tend to suffer from persistent pain and may experience a faster deterioration of memory and a greater risk of dementia as they age compared to peers who are not in chronic pain, a recent study suggests.

Researchers from the University of California examined data from more than a decade of regular surveys of cognitive abilities and pain levels among 10,065 elderly adults. Participants who reported often suffering from moderate to severe pain in both of the first two surveys experienced a 9.2 percent faster decline in memory over the next 10 years than people who didn't.

After a decade, this accelerated memory decline was associated with 16 percent higher odds that people would be unable to keep track of their medications and 12 percent greater likelihood that they would struggle to manage their finances, the study found. It was also linked to about 8 percent greater odds of dementia compared to the seniors without persistent pain.

"People with chronic pain tend to perform poorly on cognitive tests, particularly of memory and attention, compared with people who don't have chronic pain, but we did not know whether that is due to faster cognitive decline or worse cognitive performance overall," said lead study author Dr. Elizabeth Whitlock.


Experts arrived at a set of possibilities linking chronic pain with cognitive issues. Experiencing chronic pain may affect brain's ability to perform cognitive functions and encode memories. Another theory talks about the activation of stress hormones triggered by excessive pain that can meddle with smooth functioning of the cognitive system.

With persistent pain, people also had a 2.2 percent higher absolute risk of dementia by the end of the study.The study wasn't a controlled experiment designed to prove that higher levels of pain directly contribute to a lower levels of cognitive ability over time. Another limitation is that people with persistent pain were more likely to drop out or die during the study period, leaving more survey data on pain-free people by the end of the study, the authors note. Researchers also lacked data on other factors that can influence pain levels and cognitive abilities such as medication use or social interactions.

Further studies are needed to establish the link. Howvere, the above study is an attempt to establish pain as a marker to measure increased risk of future cognitive decline. Chronic pain management will not only ensure better quality of life but will also ensure warding off such health risks.

(With inputs from IANS)

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