This Dementia Sign Can Show Up 16 Years Before Diagnosis, New Study Says


When it comes to diagnosing dementia, as with most diseases, the sooner, the better. But noticing symptoms early on can be challenging, especially when they're subtle, can be chalked up to getting older, or can easily be attributed to other less severe conditions. However, a recent study found that there's one specific sign of dementia that can appear up to 16 years before people are diagnosed. To see what you should monitor yourself for, read on.

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Increased pain can be an early sign of dementia.

A May 2021 study published in the medical journal Pain found that people with dementia can experience increased levels of pain up to 16 years before diagnosis. The researchers administered questionnaires to 9,046 adults, who were between the ages of 40 and 64 at the start of the study, on nine occasions between 1991 and 2019. Over the course of the study, 567 of the 9,046 participants developed dementia.

The questions the researchers asked were specifically about pain, including about the intensity of the participants' pain and how much it interfered with their daily lives. Looking back, the researchers found that participants with dementia reported an increase in pain as much as 16 years before they were diagnosed.

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Early changes in the brain can result in increased pain.

A statement from the National Institute on Aging, which partly funded the study, said that the researchers noted that the brain alterations associated with dementia begin decades before diagnosis, so it's unlikely that pain is a risk factor for the disease. Instead, they hypothesize that chronic pain may be an early symptom or correlation of dementia.

Physician Chris Airey, MD, medical director at Optimale, who was not involved with the study, told Best Life that since research shows that changes in the brain can occur up to 34 years before dementia diagnosis, it's possible these changes can result in increased pain early on.

If you notice increased pain, look for other common early signs of dementia.

If you're experiencing more severe pain or notice that your pain is getting in the way of your daily life, you should look for other early signs of dementia. Airey says these can "include memory problems, poor concentration, a reduced ability to perform everyday tasks, and increased confusion."

According to Healthline, difficulty finding the right words, changes in mood, apathy, being repetitive, and struggling to adapt are some other early signs of dementia.

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Even if you do have more pain, you can still mitigate your risk of developing dementia.

Airey suggests maintaining a healthy diet and keeping both the mind and body active to help mitigate your risk of dementia. Additionally, he advocates for avoiding smoking and keeping alcohol consumption at a healthy level (less than 21 units a week, which is about two bottles of wine).

Stanford Health Care says you can also manage your risk of dementia by trying new hobbies, maintaining an active social life, keeping your BMI in a healthy range, and managing any health problems you have.

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