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Chronic Pain, Adolescents, and Executive Functioning

How Are Kids Affected by Chronic Pain?

The Clinical Journal of Pain reports a comparative analysis that looked at children ages 13 to 17 and how chronic pain affects executive functioning (EF). Although there have been studies which demonstrated that chronic pain causes differences in working memory and attention in adults, this study focused on young people and other aspects of EF, such as problem solving, coping, and school performance. This study "is one of few multidimensional examinations of EF in youth with chronic pain, using a comprehensive neuropsychological test battery combined with behaviour ratings." Participant pain ratings were utilized, as well as neuropsychological tests, and behavior ratings supplied by the adolescents and their parents. Participants answered questions about their sleep quality, medication use, and physical, social, emotional, and school functioning. "Our findings suggest EF differences in youth with chronic pain, across a variety of domains and may suggest risk for specific cognitive processing weaknesses in this population."

Results showed that "Participants with chronic pain had significantly lower scores on several performance-based tests of working memory/divided attention, inhibition, and flexibility/alternating attention than the comparison group. Statistically significant group differences were also found on behaviour ratings of emotion control, shifting, task initiation and completion, working memory, planning and organization, overall emotion and cognitive regulation as well as global EF." Researchers are aiming for better identification, support, and treatment for youth in chronic pain through individualized, focused pain management.


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