Pain processing in dementia and its relation to neuropathology

E.J.A. Scherder, J.A. Sergeant, D.F. Swaab

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Most clinical studies of pain in dementia have focused on assessment procedures that are sensitive to pain in "demented" or "cognitively impaired" elderly patients. The neuropathology of dementia has not played a major part in pain assessment. In this review, the neuropathological effects of dementia on the medial and the lateral pain systems are discussed. We focus on Alzheimer's disease (AD), vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Lewy-body disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are briefly reviewed. The results of the studies reviewed show that, although the subtypes of dementia show common neuropathological features (such as atrophy and white-matter lesions), the degree by which they occur and affect pain-related areas determine the pattern of changes in pain experience. More specifically, in AD and even more so in frontotemporal dementia, a decrease in the motivational and affective components of pain is generally present whereas vascular dementia might be characterised by an increase in affective pain experience. Future studies should combine data from experimental pain studies and neuropathological information for pain assessment in dementia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)677-686
Number of pages10
JournalLancet Neurology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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