A new study led by a University of Florida Institute on Aging researcher has found the brain age of older adults with chronic pain had accelerated by an average of two years. This might have important health implications since previous research has associated accelerated brain aging with an elevated risk of poor mental and physical health, including Alzheimer’s disease.
“The greater the pain intensity they were experiencing, the older looking their brain,” said Dr. Yenisel Cruz-Almeida. “In previous studies, each year of older brain age relative to your chronological age is actually predictive of about a 6 percent increase in the risk of death.”
Dr. Cruz-Almeida found that people who received treatments for their pain, from medication to even home remedies like a cold compress on an aching knee, had younger-appearing brains. Meanwhile, individuals without chronic pain had on average a brain that appeared four years younger than their actual age.
“Our findings highlight the need to address chronic pain, not just in older individuals but in potentially everyone, as pain may have unintended consequences in the brain that we don’t yet fully understand,” said Dr. Cruz-Almeida.
But, she added, “There appear to be avenues or things that could be done to change brain age.”
The research team, which included faculty members in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of clinical and health psychology Dr. Adam Woods, Dr. Eric Porges and Dr. Ronald Cohen, found that people with a positive affect — those who have a happier outlook on life and were generally more upbeat, even when they have chronic pain — had younger-appearing brains.Friday Letter Submission