Pain affects not only how we feel but also how clearly we think, research has shown.
In a new study, researchers from Monash University and the Caulfield Pain Management and Research Centre, are trialling strategies to improve cognitive functioning in people with chronic pain.
The study follows on from research presented in March this year that found that people living with chronic pain – pain that lasts for months or years – experience significant difficulty with cognitive skills in daily life.
Katharine Baker, School of Psychological Sciences at Monash, said daily life required people to constantly be focused and paying attention.
“Think of trying to remember a phone number, or a set of directions you’ve just been given, and imagine trying to do these attention-demanding tasks while constantly being distracted by pain,” Ms Baker said.
“Our research earlier this year found that skills such as working memory – which is the ability to pay attention, concentrate and hold information in mind – were significantly impacted when people lived with chronic pain.”
Dr Melita Giummarra, who is leading the research with Ms Baker, a doctoral student, said that pain disrupts these complex skills, which are vital for everyday life.
The study showed that some of the cognitive difficulties people faced were related not only to having chronic pain, but were also related to disturbance in mood, which pain is so commonly associated with.
“Depression and anxiety, as well as profile of medications that people were taking for their pain, were strongly related to having difficulties in thinking clearly in everyday life,” Dr Giummarra said.
Ms Baker said the team were now commencing a new study, trialling strategies to improve cognitive functioning in people with chronic pain, using computerised brain-training activities that can be done at home.
“We will be looking at whether regularly doing computerised brain training-types of exercises, similar to those that you see in popular programs like Lumosity, can improve mental functioning in people with chronic back pain. This is one of the most common types of chronic pain that keeps people out of the workforce, but perhaps it is not just the pain at fault,” said Ms Baker
The researchers said there was a growing topic of interest in research on pain, and cognitive difficulties are quickly becoming recognised as a part of the pain experience, extending our ideas of pain beyond the physical and emotional.
If you have chronic pain and are having trouble thinking clearly and remembering things, please contact the research team to see if you might be eligible to take part. Please contact Dr Giummarra on firstname.lastname@example.org or +61 3 9905 0034
(Source: Monash University)