Chronic pain linked to early onset dementia
Date: 22nd February 2023 | By: Dr Lourdes Gaspar
Chronic pain, such as arthritis, cancer or back pain, lasting for over three months, raises the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, a new study found.
The hippocampus, a brain structure highly associated with learning and memory, aged by about a year in a 60-year-old person who had one site of chronic pain compared with people with no pain.
When pain was felt in two places in the body, the hippocampus shrank even more — the equivalent of just over two years of aging.
The risk rose as the number of pain sites in the body increased, the study found. Hippocampal volume was nearly four times smaller in people with pain in five or more body sites compared with those with only two — the equivalent of up to eight years of aging.
Researchers said “Asking people about any chronic pain conditions, and advocating for their care by a pain specialist, may be a modifiable risk factor against cognitive decline that we can proactively address,”
The study analysed data from over 19,000 people who had undergone brain scans as part of the UK Biobank, a long-term government study of over 500,000 UK participants between the ages of 40 and 69.
The study controlled for a variety of contributing conditions — age, alcohol use, body mass, ethnicity, genetics, history of cancer, diabetes, vascular or heart problems, medications, psychiatric symptoms and smoking status, to name a few.
The study provides a quantitative understanding of the impact of chronic pain on cognitive function and the risk of dementia, laying an important foundation for future research into the relationship between chronic pain and cognitive impairment.
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