Chronic pain may increase dementia risk: Here are five Frontiers articles you won’t want to miss

by Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer


At Frontiers, we bring some of the world’s best research to a global audience. But with tens of thousands of articles published each year, it’s impossible to cover all of them. Here are just five amazing papers you may have missed.

Chronic pain associated with increased dementia risk

Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) make up approximately 80% of the more than 47 million cases of dementia worldwide. Looking into the future, cases are expected to increase sharply in the coming decades. A large percentage of the older population is also affected by chronic pain, a leading cause of disability that shares many risk factors with ADRD. These include advanced age, depressive disorders, diabetes, obesity, social isolation, and a low level of education.

Now, researchers in France have assessed the impact of chronic pain on the incidence of ADRD. They published their results in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

They found that the presence of chronic pain is associated with a higher incidence and risk of developing ADRD when compared with older adults with no chronic pain. The researchers stressed the importance of prevention, diagnosis, and management of chronic pain to limit resulting comorbidities, such as dementias and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Bones in a box turn out to be Neanderthal remains

The Iberian Mediterranean region holds significant importance in understanding Neanderthal evolution and variability, and its archaeological records provide valuable insights into their biological and cultural development as well as their eventual disappearance.

Now, writing in Frontiers in Earth Science, an international team of researchers has reported on a previously unpublished collection of more than 50 human remains from the Late Pleistocene, dating between approximately 11,700 and 129,000 years ago. The remains were found in the Cova Simanya cave system, located a short drive from Barcelona, during the 1970s. An additional tooth was added to the collection in 2021.

The bones correspond to at least three individuals: A female adult, and two younger specimens, aged approximately 11.5 and 7.7 years. The collection encompasses diverse anatomical parts from both the upper and lower extremities. Although DNA extraction was unsuccessful, this assemblage offers invaluable insights into the morphology and evolutionary trajectory of Late Pleistocene hominins.

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Reducing heatstroke risk factors is vital in a warming world

Heat stroke kills thousands each year. It is a condition brought about by extreme temperatures or physical exertion resulting in body temperatures surpassing 40°C. Especially in older adults, those aged 65 and older, heatstroke is common – and dangerous.

Researchers in Japan have identified living alone, the inability to independently drink water, and the lack of air-conditioning as risk factors for heatstroke among older adults. In their Frontiers in Public Health article, they also projected the incidence of heatstroke-related ambulance transports in Tokyo until 2100 under pathways describing different climate change scenarios (RCPs).

Their projections showed that future climate change under RCP 2.6 (CO2 emissions start declining by 2020 and go to zero by 2100) would require a 30% relative reduction in all three identified risks from 2060. RCP 4.5 (emissions peak around 2040, then decline) would require a relative reduction of 70% or more from 2050. In the case of RCP 8.5 (emissions continue to rise throughout the 21st century) even a 100% reduction would not be comparable to a climate pathway that limits global warming to 1.5°C.

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Gender neutral forms can’t neutralize the masculine bias

Many languages – unlike English – use grammatical gender. The use of masculine forms as a generic reference to gender-mixed or gender-unspecified groups, is common, but has been associated with a bias favoring masculine-specific representations. 

Researchers in France have examined how effective gender-neutral (e.g. ‘l’enfant’) and re-feminized forms (e.g. ‘un·e enfant’) are in reducing gender biases in language. Their article was published recently in Frontiers in Psychology.

The researchers carried out a sentence-continuation experiment where participants decided if a male or female pronoun was a sensible continuation to a previous, gender-unmarked sentence. A second experiment compared gender-unmarked and re-feminized forms to assess each form’s ability to generate more balanced representations. The finding indicated that gender-unmarked forms are not fully effective in neutralizing the masculine bias, and that re-feminized forms are more effective in promoting gender balance compared to gender-unmarked forms.

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Humans preferred for medical advice – unless it’s embarrassing

Chatbots are used in an increasing number of contexts, from customer support to healthcare. In healthcare systems that are often notoriously understaffed, chatbots have the potential to improve healthcare capacity and provide timely patient access to health information.

In a new study published in Frontiers in Communication, researchers in the UK have explored patients’ preferences for initial consultations about different medical symptoms.

They found that most people prefer initial consultations with a doctor than a medical chatbot for all health conditions they depicted in their study. Consulting with a human – while considered more embarrassing and stressful by study participants – was thought to be more accurate, reassuring, trustworthy, useful, and confidential than consulting with a chatbot. In contrast to other symptom categories, people with potentially embarrassing sexual symptoms, preferred chatbots more frequently. This, however, did not change peoples’ general preference for human points of contact.

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