According to new research published last month, untreated chronic pain can increase a person’s chance of cognitive decline and dementia, and that risk rises with the number of body areas experiencing chronic pain.
In a study published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found chronic pain affected the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory and learning.
In research, the size of the hippocampus in patients with chronic pain is compared to the size of the hippocampus in aging individuals without chronic pain and found that chronic pain may cause the hippocampus to age artificially. Researchers compared the results to a healthy 60-year-old patient and found :
- The hippocampus of patients with one chronic pain site had aged by an extra year.
- The hippocampus has aged by around two more years in patients with two chronic pain sites.
- The hippocampus had aged by up to an additional eight years in patients with five or more chronic pain sites.
Hence, even though you may only be 60 years old, your hippocampus may have aged like a 68-year-old if you experience chronic pain in five or more different parts of your body. Dementia is commonly caused by aging. If your brain is artificially aged by chronic pain, you may be more prone to develop dementia or cognitive decline.
Chronic pain can affect cognitive function in various ways. It increases stress hormone levels, which may have an effect on brain regions important for cognitive function. Chronic pain can divert attention which makes it more challenging to carry out cognitive and memory tasks. It also disrupts sleep which is crucial for optimal cognitive function.
When the underlying disease is stable or progresses, as is the case with many chronic pain diseases, dementia usually gets worse over time. Dementia prevalence appears to be related to the intensity and duration of chronic pain. Chronic pain, when left untreated, can accelerate dementia. With age, the likelihood of developing dementia also rises because of the prevalence of chronic pain. Seniors are more likely to take a variety of medications which may also cause mental confusion.
Fortunately, chronic pain-related brain damage can be reversed to some extent. Compared to younger patients, the elderly have a lower chance of recovering from dementia caused by chronic pain.
CHRONIC PAIN MANAGEMENT MAY PREVENT DEMENTIA
You may lower your risk of dementia by managing and treating chronic pain conditions. Although the management of chronic pain is very customized, some individuals discover that a combination of the following strategies can give them better control over their condition :
- Dietary changes
- Physical therapy
- Posture Improvements
- Stress Relief
- Deep breathing techniques
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Better sleep quality
Painkillers can be used to manage chronic pain but the above-mentioned techniques are more effective at addressing the root cause of the pain and providing long-term relief.
A pain management specialist can help you find the right combination of treatments that will work for you. Consult Specialty Care Clinics.