Is Chronic Pain and Dementia Linked?

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Chronic pain can be a sign of emerging dementia up to 16 years before the brain disease itself is diagnosed, according to findings published in the journal Pain.

Researchers know that many people diagnosed with dementia also experience chronic pain. However, it’s not been clear if chronic pain:

  • Actually causes or accelerates the onset of dementia
  • Is simply a symptom of dementia; or
  • Is merely associated with dementia, with the pain and dementia caused by something else.

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance” says that the study, which was sponsored in part by the National Institute on Aging, examined the timeline of the association between dementia and self-reported pain. The research was conducted by the University of Paris and two other European universities.

The study’s data goes back as far as 27 years. As a result, it’s the first to examine the connection between pain and dementia over an extended period.

Participants in the study were British government employees who were between the ages of 35 and 55, when they enrolled in the research.

Patients in the study were asked to report on two aspects of pain: (i) pain intensity (how much bodily pain a participant experiences); and (ii) pain interference (how much pain affects a participant’s daily activities). Of the 9,046 participants, 567 developed dementia during the study period. Those diagnosed with dementia reported slightly more pain as early as 16 years before their diagnosis. Over time, those diagnosed with dementia commented that they felt steadily increasing pain levels, compared with those who were never diagnosed with dementia.

The link between chronic pain and dementia has been a topic for study in recent years.

Earlier research found that individuals who experience chronic pain have permanent changes in the structure of the brain that are similar to those in people with dementia.

The exact relationship between chronic pain and dementia remains unclear, but they are associated. This 27-year study has given researchers a better sense of what might be behind that association.

According to the National Institute on Aging:

“The researchers note that, because the brain changes associated with dementia start decades before diagnosis, it is unlikely that pain causes or increases the risk of dementia. Instead, they suggest that chronic pain might be an early symptom of dementia or simply correlated with dementia.”

Reference: Money Talks News (June 17, 2021) “This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance”

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