As we get older, it becomes increasingly important that we pay attention to how we feel every day. Research has shown that even small changes could implicate larger problems down the road, and it’s best to communicate with our healthcare providers as soon as we notice something feels off. For example, when it comes to conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia, catching early symptoms can make a world of difference in treating the disease. Thankfully, emerging research points to initial signs we should be on the lookout for — and there’s one that could appear as much as 16 years before diagnosis.
Body Pain and Dementia
According to a new study published in the journal Pain, a sudden increase in body pain is a reason to start paying attention to your brain health, as it could predict a dementia diagnosis later on. For the research, around 9,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 64 were recruited. Between 1991 and 2019, the subjects completed nine questionnaires about their health and general wellbeing. Over the course of the study, 567 of the participants developed dementia.
The questionnaires specifically asked the subjects about how much pain they experienced, including the intensity of the pain and how much it interfered with their daily lives. At the end of the study, the researchers concluded that the participants who developed dementia reported increases in pain as much as 16 years before their dementia diagnosis.
To be clear, these findings don’t suggest that pain causes dementia. Rather, more pain could be a signal that something is changing in our brains. While increases in pain levels might be one of those problems that we chalk up to “just getting older,” the researchers from this study suggest that it’s something we need to pay closer attention to. According to them, dementia causes alterations to the brain that can specifically lead to more pain, and these changes can occur decades before the disease is typically diagnosed.
So if you’ve had a sudden or recent increase in nagging body aches, look out for other early symptoms of brain degeneration like memory loss, poor concentration, confusion, and changes in your mood. And as always, make sure that you’re keeping an open line of communication with your doctor and reporting any and all changes in how you feel as they come along. Keeping track of your mental functioning as the years go by can make all the difference to your health and longevity.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.