Foggy Mind, Aching Body? New Hope for Seniors With Chronic Pain and Memory Loss

Chronic Pain
Chronic Pain

Living with chronic pain is a challenge for many people, but it can be especially difficult for older adults.  On top of the physical discomfort, chronic pain can also affect your thinking and memory. 

This article explores the connection between chronic pain and early cognitive decline, along with a promising new program being tested to help people manage both issues.

The Pain-Memory Connection

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for a long time, typically longer than three months. It’s a surprisingly common problem, affecting millions of older adults.  

Meanwhile, early cognitive decline is a subtle decrease in memory, thinking skills, and focus. While it’s a normal part of aging for some, it can also be a sign of a more serious condition like Alzheimer’s disease.  

Here’s the surprising part: chronic pain and early cognitive decline often occur together.  Studies suggest they can even worsen each other over time.  For example, the excessive stress and worry caused by chronic pain can make it harder to concentrate and remember things.  On the other hand, difficulty focusing can make it harder to manage pain, creating a frustrating cycle.

An older adult with chronic pain

The Active Brains Program

Researchers have conducted a study looking for ways to help older adults who struggle with both chronic pain and early cognitive decline. One promising approach is the Active Brains (AB) program.  This program is a mind-body activity intervention specifically designed for this group of people.  

The idea behind it is that by improving both physical and mental well-being, participants can experience relief from both pain and cognitive difficulties.

How Does the Active Brains Program Work?

The AB program is unique because it’s delivered remotely, meaning participants can join in from the comfort of their own homes.  

Here’s a breakdown of how it works:

Recruitment and Screening

People interested in the program can learn about it through doctors, online platforms, and community resources. Once someone expresses interest, they undergo a simple screening process to see if they qualify for the program.

Baseline Assessment

Before starting the program, participants take part in an assessment that measures their physical abilities, thinking skills, emotional well-being, and pain levels. This helps researchers track progress later on. 

These assessments involve questionnaires, performance-based tests (like a walking test), and even wearing a device to track daily activity levels.

The Program Itself

The AB program consists of eight weekly group sessions led by a psychologist. These sessions are conducted remotely through telehealth using live video conferencing technology. Participants in the AB group also receive a Fitbit to encourage increased physical activity, which is a key part of the program.

Follow-up

After completing the program, participants are reassessed using the same methods as before. There’s also a follow-up assessment six months later to see if the program’s benefits last.

Early Results are Promising

The AB program is still under investigation, but early findings are encouraging.  Researchers have already completed recruitment for the first phase of the study and are seeing good participation.  

Almost all participants have completed the program sessions and worn the activity trackers diligently.  This suggests that the program is feasible and engaging for older adults.

What’s Next?

The next step is to see if the AB program actually works. In their research, doctors compared the results of the AB group to those of a control group that received a different program focused on general health education.  

By comparing the two groups, they can see if the AB program has a specific benefit for managing chronic pain and early cognitive decline.

Conclusion

Chronic pain and early cognitive decline can be a difficult combination for older adults to manage.  The Active Brains program offers a potential solution by focusing on both physical and mental well-being.  

While the program is still under investigation, the initial results are positive.  Future studies will determine if the AB program can become a valuable tool for helping older adults cope with these challenges.

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