Chronic pain could increase your risk of dementia, says study22/02/2023
Alzheimers Research UK explain 'what is dementia?'
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Dementia is the name for a group of symptoms related to the decline of the brain. Most common among older people, it can cause issues with memory, behaviour and even movement. There is no known cure for dementia yet, however, there are factors that can either increase or raise your risk.
Now a study has found that people who suffer from chronic pain for over three months at a time are more likely to experience dementia and cognitive decline.
Chronic pain in this case could include arthritis, back pain or cancer.
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, discovered that the hippocampus – which is a brain structure linked to memory and learning – aged about a year in a 60-year-old person who had chronic pain in one area, compared to those with no pain.
Experiencing pain in two different areas of the body was shown to shrink the hippocampus even more.
This was the equivalent of just over two years of ageing on the brain.
Corresponding study author Tu Yiheng and his colleagues explained: “In other words, the hippocampal (grey matter volume) in a 60-year-old individual with (chronic pain) at two body sites was similar to the volume of (pain free) controls aged 62-year-old.”
Risk of cognitive impairment increased in line with the number of pain sites in the body.
For example, the hippocampus was around four times smaller in people with pain in five or more body sites compared with those with only two.
This is the equivalent of up to eight years of ageing.
As part of the research, the team from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences studied the data of more than 19,000 people who had undergone brain scans as part of the UK Biobank.
Subjects with more than one site of body pain performed worse than those with no pain on seven of 11 cognitive tasks, it was reported.
In comparison, people with only one pain site performed worse on only one cognitive task, which was the ability to remember to perform a task in the future.
A number of contributing conditions were factored into the study including age, alcohol use, body mass, ethnicity, genetics, history of cancer, diabetes, vascular or heart problems, medications, psychiatric symptoms and smoking status, among others.
However, it did not control for levels of exercise, something which one expert said could be linked.
Alzheimer’s disease researcher Doctor Richard Isaacson, who was not involved in the study, shared his thoughts with CNN.
Speaking to the media outlet he said: “Exercise is the number one most powerful tool in the fight against cognitive decline and dementia.
“People affected by multisite chronic pain may be less able to adhere to regular physical activity as one potential mechanism for increased dementia risk.”
His comments are supported by a study published last year in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
This paper, by a team from the University College London Medical School, found that the more physically active someone is the less likely they are to develop dementia in later life.
It said: “Being physically active at any time in adulthood, and to any extent, is linked with higher later-life cognitive state, but lifelong maintenance of physical activity was most optimal.”
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