People in pain often experience difficulty in concentrating, solving problems, and remembering things. Umeå researcher Stefan Söderfjell has now shown in his doctoral dissertation that people in pain actually do have these problems with their so-called cognitive functions.
In a series of cognitive tests, mainly for memory, results were compared between people with and without pain in their arms, shoulders, neck, and back. Some one thousand individuals from Umeå aged 35–80 took part in the tests. The results show that people experiencing physical pain have a lower capacity to remember than people without pain. The normal loss of memory capacity that comes with aging is also more palpable among people in pain.
It is generally known that pain causes physical suffering. The fact that pain also hampers basic mental faculties makes it all the more urgent to come to grips with this public health problem. Stefan Söderfjell feels that the impaired cognitive functions of patients in pain should be addressed by doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and the like, so that instructions, information, and training programs are made clear and easy for patients to understand.
The test subjects are involved in the so-called Betula Project, in which researchers have been following the mental and physical status of a group of people as they age, starting in 1988. More information about the project can be found at: http://www.psy.umu.se/memory/Betula.html