Does pain predict frailty in older men and women? findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)

Katie F Wade, Alan Marshall, Bram Vanhoutte, Frederick C W Wu, Terence W O'Neill, David M Lee

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    BACKGROUND: Pain has been suggested to act as a stressor during aging, potentially accelerating declines in health and functioning. Our objective was to examine the longitudinal association between self-reported pain and the development, or worsening, of frailty among older men and women.

    METHODS: The study population consisted of 5,316 men and women living in private households in England, mean age 64.5 years, participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Data from Waves 2 and 6 of ELSA were used in this study with 8 years of follow-up. At Wave 2, participants were asked whether they were "often troubled with pain" and for those who reported yes, further information regarding the intensity of their pain (mild, moderate, or severe) was collected. Socioeconomic status (SES) was assessed using information about the current/most recent occupation and also net wealth. A frailty index (FI) was generated, with the presence of frailty defined as an FI >0.35. Among those without frailty at Wave 2, the association between pain at Wave 2 and frailty at Wave 6 was examined using logistic regression. We investigated whether pain predicted change in FI between Waves 2 and 6 using a negative binomial regression model. For both models adjustments were made for age, gender, lifestyle factors, depressive symptoms, and socioeconomic factors.

    RESULTS: At Wave 2, 455 (19.7%) men and 856 (28.7%) women reported they often experienced moderate or severe pain. Of the 5,159 participants who were nonfrail at Wave 2, 328 (6.4%) were frail by Wave 6. The mean FI was 0.11 (standard deviation [SD] = 0.1) at Wave 2 and 0.15 (SD = 0.1) at Wave 6. After adjustment for age, gender, body mass index, lifestyle factors, and depressive symptoms, compared to participants reporting no pain at Wave 2 those reporting moderate (odds ratio [OR] = 3.08, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.28, 4.16) or severe pain (OR = 3.78, 95% CI = 2.51, 5.71) were significantly more likely to be frail at Wave 6. This association persisted after further adjustment for either occupational class and/or net wealth level. Compared to those without pain, those with mild, moderate, or severe pain were also more likely to develop worsening frailty, as assessed using the FI, and this association persisted after adjustment for SES. There was no evidence that the association between pain and frailty was influenced by gender.

    CONCLUSION: Pain is associated with an increased risk and intensity of frailty in older men and women. Socioeconomic factors contribute to the occurrence of frailty; though in our study do not explain the relationship between pain and frailty.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)403-409
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournals of Gerontology Series A - Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences
    Issue number3
    Early online date11 Nov 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


    • Frailty
    • Pain
    • Successful ageing
    • ELSA


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