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A long-term study of seniors with pain found those who reported the highest levels of pain were more likely to develop cognitive impairment than those with lower levels.

Led by researchers in the Department of Neurology at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the project was performed in conjunction with geriatric specialists from The Netherlands to provide the first longitudinal study linking pain and potential memory loss.

“These findings provide evidence that pain is a [potentially modifiable] risk factor for memory impairment, and they underline the importance of monitoring pain in older adults,” lead author Guusje van der Leeuw told Reuters Health.

The researchers followed 441 participants without dementia who were at least 65 years old. They tracked scores on a pain severity and neurological status assessment over an average of 2¾ years. Among those with pain, the likelihood of developing major memory impairment was almost 3½ times higher for those with high levels of pain than for those with low levels of pain, even when researchers adjusted for age, gender, education and ethnicity.