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Timeline of pain before dementia diagnosis: a 27-year follow-up study

This study examines the importance of length of follow-up on the association between pain and incident dementia. Further objective was to characterize pain trajectories in the 27 years preceding dementia diagnosis and compare them with those among persons free of dementia during the same period. Pain intensity and pain interference (averaged as total pain) were measured on 9 occasions (1991-2016) using the Short-Form 36 Questionnaire amongst 9046 (women 5 31.4%) dementia-free adults aged 40 to 64 years in 1991; 567 dementia cases were recorded between 1991 and 2019. Cox regression was used to assess the association between pain measures at different time points and incident dementia and mixed models to assess pain trajectories preceding dementia diagnosis or endpoint for dementia-free participants.
Results from Cox regression showed moderate/severe compared with mild/ no total pain, pain intensity, and pain interference not to be associated with dementia when the mean follow-up was 25.0, 19.6, 14.5, or 10.0 years. These associations were evident for a mean follow-up of 6.2 years: for total pain (hazard ratio 5 1.72; 95% confidence intervals 5 1.28-2.33), pain intensity (1.41; 1.04-1.92), and pain interference (1.80; 1.30-2.49). These associations were stronger when the mean follow-up for incidence of dementia was 3.2 years. Twenty-seven–year pain trajectories differed between dementia cases and noncases with small differences in total pain and pain interference evident 16 years before dementia diagnosis (difference in the total pain score 5 1.4, 95% confidence intervals 5 0.1-2.7) and rapidly increasing closer to diagnosis. In conclusion, these findings suggest that pain is a correlate or prodromal symptom rather than a cause of dementia.
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