Chronic pain linked to increased risk of dementia in study of older adults.
Researchers at UC San Francisco have found that older people with persistent pain show quicker declines in memory as they age and are more likely to have dementia years later, an indication that chronic pain could somehow be related to changes in the brain that contribute to dementia.
Elizabeth Whitlock, MD, MSc, a postdoctoral fellow in the UCSF Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care and the first author of the study, said the findings point toward new ways of thinking about how to protect older people from the cognitive insults of aging. "Elderly people need to maintain their cognition to stay independent," she said.
The data that the researchers analyzed - an ongoing national study of older Americans called the Health and Retirement Study - did not include information about opioid use, so they could not tell which of their participants were taking the drugs.
While opioid use could be the cause of the cognitive changes they observed, Whitlock said, so could the pain itself.
For example, a recent study of chronic pain sufferers found that those who took nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, had nearly the same increased dementia risk as those taking opioids. "This means we have to consider the potential direct effects of chronic pain on cognition," she said.
If either is the case, she said, then effectively treating the pain could protect cognition.
Article: Association Between Persistent Pain and Memory Decline and Dementia in a Longitudinal Cohort of Elders, Elizabeth L. Whitlock, MD, MSc et al., JAMA Internal Medicine, doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.1622, published online 5 June 2017.