Previous studies have revealed that memory performance is diminished in chronic pain patients. Few studies, however, have assessed multiple components of memory in a single sample. It is currently also unknown whether attentional problems, which are commonly observed in chronic pain, mediate the decline in memory. Finally, previous studies have focused on middle-aged adults, and a possible detrimental effect of aging on memory performance in chronic pain patients has been commonly disregarded. This study, therefore, aimed at describing the pattern of semantic, working, and visual and verbal episodic memory performance in participants with chronic pain, while testing for possible contributions of attention and age to task performance.
Thirty-four participants with chronic pain and 32 pain-free participants completed tests of episodic, semantic, and working memory to assess memory performance and a test of attention.
Participants with chronic pain performed worse on tests of working memory and verbal episodic memory. A decline in attention explained some, but not all, group differences in memory performance. Finally, no additional effect of age on the diminished task performance in participants with chronic pain was observed.
Taken together, the results indicate that chronic pain significantly affects memory performance. Part of this effect may be caused by underlying attentional dysfunction, although this could not fully explain the observed memory decline. An increase in age in combination with the presence of chronic pain did not additionally affect memory performance.