Research shows that chronic pain increases the rate of functional loss and cognitive impairment in older adults. According to researchers, chronic pain can cause damage to the cerebral cortex, a major part of the brain that is involved in memory, attention, perception, cognition, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.

Chronic pain remains grossly under diagnosed and under treated in the elderly interfering with the daily functioning of older adults, and can be a primary contributor to the onset of dementia.

One cross-sectional study involving over 5,000 patients looked at the impact of pain on cognitive function among people ages 65 years and older, and found that over 50% of patients with moderate to severe pain experienced functional cognitive impairment that impacted their ability to perform basic daily tasks.

In an additional study involving over 10,000 patients, researchers showed that persistent pain was associated with a 9% faster increase in memory decline compared with those without persistent pain. The study concluded moderate to severe persistent pain in older adults is linked with accelerated memory decline and increased dementia probability.

This research suggests that chronic pain can lead to a rapid onset of cognitive dysfunction, memory decline and poor daily function among the elderly. Treatment options for pain are limited for both providers and elderly patients.  According to Dr. David Silver, a Los Angeles based Rheumatologist and former director of the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Center at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, “Traditional pain medications like NSAIDs and Opioids are often contraindicated in the elderly due to the high incidence of side effects, because treatment options are limited for this patient population I often recommend alternative methods for managing pain.” According to Dr. Silver, “Light daily exercise and stretching along with nutritional interventions, ice and heat can help alleviate chronic pain, and without the risks of stomach bleeds or stroke.”

Leave a Reply