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Heat Pain Perception Decreases with Age

May 24, 2024

Does pain perception change with age? In particular, is there a significant increase or decrease in perception between older and younger people in response to different types of painful stimuli, such as heat and pressure?

Pain perception is a complex physiological and psychological process that is influenced by various factors, including age, gender, cultural background, and previous pain experience. With the accelerated aging of the population, understanding how age affects pain perception and how these changes occur is critical for developing appropriate pain management strategies for older adults.

To reveal the behavioral pattern underlying the changes in pain perception during aging and to provide a scientific basis for pain management and treatment in older adults, Dr. KONG Yazhuo and his team from the Institute of Psychology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences compared the similarities and differences in the perception of two different modalities of stimuli, heat and pressure, between young and older adults by collecting sensory debriefings of these stimuli from young adults and older adults.

The researchers designed involved applying heat and pressure stimuli that relied on small and large fibers, respectively, to groups of younger and older adults. Participants' pain thresholds and ratings of stimulus sensation were assessed by heat and pressure pulses of nine intensities applied to their right and left feet separately.

They found that older adults reported lower pain ratings for heat stimuli above their pain threshold, suggesting a reduced sensitivity to heat pain with age.

In addition, older adults had significantly lower discriminative ability for heat stimuli near or above their pain threshold compared to younger adults, suggesting a decline in the ability to discriminate heat pain intensity with age. However, no significant decline was observed for pressure pain.

The researchers concluded that aging is associated with a decline in heat pain perception, as evidenced by increased thresholds and decrease discriminability. Interestingly, pressure pain perception and sensitivity do not show significant age-related changes.

These findings increase our understanding of how aging affects somatosensory function, which could inform the assessment and treatment of older adults experiencing pain.

The study entitled "Age-associated changes in multimodal pain perception" was published on May 22 in Age And Ageing, and it was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

A. Experimental setup and conditions (created with BioRender.com); B. Correlation between age and pain thresholds; Significant difference in heat threshold; Pain ratings of heat stimuli across younger and older groups (**p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001); C. Significant difference in pain discriminability at various levels of heat stimuli; Correlations between pain discriminability and pain threshold; Correlations between age and discriminability of heat stimulation (**p < 0.01) (Image by KONG Yazhuo's team)

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LIU Chen

Institute of Psychology

E-mail:

Age-associated changes in multimodal pain perception

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