A new study has found that people who experience chronic pain in different areas of the body are at higher risk for dementia and faster cognitive decline.
About 50 million American adults suffer from chronic pain. It can limit their quality of life and can be difficult to treat, depending on the problem. Chronic pain has many causes, including autoimmune diseases, chronic conditions and trauma.
Nearly half of patients with chronic pain experience multifocal chronic pain (MCP), defined as pain in multiple anatomical localizations. Researchers from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences analyzed data from 354,943 people from a United Kingdom biobank to learn more about its effects on cognitive function.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that patients with chronic pain with MPC are at greater risk of dementia than people without pain and those with chronic single point pain (SCP).
In addition, people with chronic pain in multiple body parts experience more widespread and rapid decline in cognitive functions, including memory, executive function, learning and attention.
According to the researchers, the risk of neurocognitive impairment increases with each additional area of pain and is mediated by atrophy in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, whose volume decreases with age.
The study authors equate the effects of multifocal chronic pain with the effects of aging in healthy people with an average age of 60.
"Multifocal chronic pain can lead to accelerated aging of the hippocampus for up to eight years, an effect that may underlie a number of cognitive strains," says the study's correspondent.
Dementia is a broad term for a decline in brain function, such as loss of memory, speech, problem-solving and other thinking abilities, severe enough to interfere with daily life. Although dementia primarily affects the elderly, it is not part of normal aging.
The known risk factors for dementia include: