People of all ages suffering chronic pain report problems with poor memory, although for younger and middle aged people this is commonly a result of fatigue and/or a side effect of their medication, as opposed to evidence of an underlying cognitive problem. Indeed, in relation to opioids, research has shown that cognitive side effects including poor memory can be reversed following withdrawal.
However, research published recently by the University of California, San Francisco seems to confirm what many have for some time suspected, which is that elderly people suffering persistent (chronic) pain are indeed more likely to suffer an accelerated decline in memory and to develop dementia than those not suffering persistent pain.
This long term study involved more than 10,000 participants over the age of 62. Following adjustments for a number of variables, people who reported persistent pain had a 9.2% more rapid decline in memory and the probability of them developing dementia increased by 7.7%, as compared to those not suffering persistent pain.
The reason for the connection remains unclear, but the proof of a statistically significant link may now provide the impetus for further research. Interestingly, long term opioid use has not been ruled out as a potential factor, although another recent study found “little evidence of long-term cognitive harm specific to opioids”.