Elders with persistent pain may be at increased risk for dementia, suggests a JAMA Internal Medicine study.
Researchers studied 10,000 community-dwelling adults aged 60 and older; 11% said they were often bothered by moderate or severe pain in 1998 and 2000. Memory and dementia probability scores were tracked until 2012, and analyses were adjusted for health and demographic variables.
Compared to adults with less severe or less frequent pain, those with persistent pain had a mean 9% faster decline in memory scores and an 8% faster increase in dementia probability scores. After 10 years, the accelerated memory decline would mean roughly a 12%–16% increased risk for being unable to manage finances or medications independently.
The authors note that chronic pain is a stressful exposure that could affect cognitive decline through cortisol-based pathways. Another possible mechanism: pain could compete for the brain’s processing resources; when attention is diverted to pain, it may impair memory encoding.