According to a recent study, chronic pain that lasts longer than three months, such as arthritis or back pain, increases the risk of dementia and cognitive impairment later on in life.
When compared to people without pain, the hippocampus, a brain region strongly linked to learning and memory, ages by nearly a year in a 60-year-old with one chronic pain spot.
According to estimations from the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal earlier this week, the hippocampus decreased even more when pain was experienced in two locations. This is comparable to little over two years of aging.
Author Tu Yiheng and his colleagues wrote that “In other words, the grey matter volume (hippocampal) in a 60-year-old person with (chronic pain) at 2 body sites was similar to the volume of (pain free) controls aged 62.”
The study discovered that the danger grew as the body’s pain locations multiplied. Those experiencing pain in five or more bodily locations had roughly four times less hippocampal volume than those with pain in only two, which is the comparable to up to 8 years of aging.
Dr. Richard Isaacson, an Alzheimer’s disease researcher who was not directly involved in the research, said that “Asking individuals about chronic pain conditions, and also advocating for their care by a pain expert, may be a changeable risk factor against cognitive decline we can proactively address.”
Data from more than 19,000 individuals who underwent brain scans as part of UK Biobank, a lengthy government research involving more than 500,000 participants between the ages of 40 and 69 from the UK, were evaluated for the study.
On seven out of eleven cognitive activities, those with numerous locations of physical discomfort underperformed those without pain.
The capacity to recall to complete a task in the future was the only cognitive activity on which people with only one pain location underperformed.
Age, alcohol usage, body mass, ethnicity, genetics, family history of cancer, diabetes, vascular or cardiac issues, meds, mental symptoms, and smoking status were only a few of the relevant factors that the study also adjusted for.
Isaacson noted that the study did not account for activity levels, however.
“Exercise is the No. 1 best tool in the fight against cognitive decline and against dementia. People affected by multisite chronic pain can be less able to adhere to physical activity as one possible mechanism for increased dementia risk,” he mentioned.
A connection between chronic pain and inflammation is also crucial, according to Isaacson.
According to a review of recent studies published in 2019, pain causes immune cells known as microglia to produce neuroinflammation, which might alter brain function.
Higher pain scores were also associated with a greater likelihood of diminished gray matter in other cognitively important brain regions, which are similarly affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, a 2016 research that was included in the analysis states that more than 45% of Alzheimer’s patients have persistent pain.
Additionally, because chronic pain frequently makes it difficult to get a decent night’s sleep, the study was unable to identify sleep deficiencies.
During middle age, sleeping fewer than six hours a night increases the risk of dementia by 30%, according to 2021 research.