Chronic pain could be warning of dementia later in life

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Dementia illustration
Credit: MGN

Most of us can’t go a day without feeling some kind of pain, but that could be an indication you may develop dementia later in life.

A new study finds people’s pain levels increased at least a decade before the diagnosis.

Deb Jobe of Bradenton battled chronic pain for years, but leading up to her diagnosis of early-onset dementia, it got worse.

“I would say five to seven years – it was really kind of kicking in, where I was really complaining about my arms, my hands hurt, what’s wrong, getting more headaches than normal.”

Research says the pain could be a warning. A newly published study followed more than 9,000 dementia-free adults for 27 years. It found the people who developed dementia experienced increased levels of pain for 16 years before their diagnosis.

“Neurodegenerative changes in the brain are seen in both chronic pain and in dementia. So we were thinking that there will be an overlap of these neurodegenerative changes happening there,” said Sushmithadev Kumaradev, with the UniversitĂ© de Paris’s Epidemiology of Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases department.

“We observed a marked increase in pain in the decade preceding dementia diagnosis. The associations were evident only a decade before diagnosis of dementia, and the associations became stronger when it is closer to the clinical diagnosis of dementia.”

SĂ©verine Sabia, Ph.D., a research associate with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. said there are several symptoms that can appear progressively before a dementia diagnosis, such as “changes in mood or in behavior. And probably pain is part of these symptoms.”

“We need to assess different factors in order to be able to help with prevention measures.”

Dr. Jaclynn Faffer, president and CEO of Naples Senior Center, said it’s important to not leave any stone unturned when the causes are unknown and there isn’t a cure.
“My hope is that as research is increasing, there will be something to address the disease and the progress of the disease,” she said.

Jobe said if she had known about her condition earlier, it would have made all the difference for her family.

“We would have planned our retirement differently, we would have planned our budgets differently, we would have prioritized time together more, we would have looked into care options.”

She still has hope that it can help yours.

“I want people that are in my position or find themselves in my position, to have a fighting chance to catch it early, to then be able to employ those strategies and be able to enjoy life, spend a little more time with their families.”

Researchers say they now want to narrow down the different types of pain associated with dementia. For example, is it all types of chronic pain or is the pain associated with dementia localized?

Alzheimer’s Association Research

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