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Short-term Prospective Memory Deficits in Chronic Back Pain Patients

Ling, Jonathan PhD; Campbell, Carol PhD; Heffernan, Thomas M. PhD; Greenough, Charles G. MD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31802e0f22
Original Articles

Objective: Chronic pain, particularly low back pain, is widespread. Although a great deal is known about the impact that this has on quality of life and physical activity, relatively little has been established regarding the more cognitive effects of pain. This study aims to find out whether individuals with chronic pain experience memory deficits in prospective memory (PM), the process of remembering to do things at some future point in time. Examples of PM include remembering to keep an appointment, such as a visit to a clinic, or to perform a particular task, such as paying a bill on time.

Methods: The PM of 50 participants with chronic pain was compared with 50 pain-free participants. Each participant completed the Prospective Memory Questionnaire, which assesses three aspects of prospective memory (short-term habitual, long-term episodic, and internally cued), and records the use of strategies to aid remembering.

Results: In comparison to those not in pain, participants with chronic pain had significantly impaired short-term prospective memory, an effect which was evident even after co-varying use of analgesics and other drugs.

Conclusions: These findings provide new insights into prospective memory dysfunction in people with chronic pain. Possible mechanisms for this dysfunction are discussed and suggestions for future research given.

PM = prospective memory; PMQ = Prospective Memory Questionnaire; MANCOVA = multivariate analyses of covariance.

From School of Psychology (J.L.), Keele University; Psychology Section (C.C.), University of Teesside; Division of Psychology (T.M.H.), University of Northumbria; James Cook University Hospital (C.G.G.), Middlesbrough.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr Jonathan Ling, School of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG UK. E-mail:

Received for publication May 17, 2006; revision received August 24, 2006.

Copyright © 2007 by American Psychosomatic Society
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