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Prescription opioids and longitudinal changes in cognitive function in older adults: A population-based observational study

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2022 Sep 18. doi: 10.1111/jgs.18030. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Opioids are frequently prescribed to alleviate pain in older adults, yet the relationships between prescription opioids and long-term cognitive function are unclear.

METHODS: In this analysis of the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, a longitudinal population-based cohort study of older adults with formal neuropsychological testing and cognitive evaluations performed every 15 months, the associations between prescription opioids, global and domain-specific cognitive function, and mild cognitive impairment were evaluated through time-dependent linear mixed effects and Cox proportional hazards models.

RESULTS: Four thousand two hundred eighteen participants (51% male) were included with enrollment between 11/1/2004 and 4/1/2019 and median age of 76 (interquartile range 72, 82) years. Two thousand nine hundred seventy-seven subjects (71%) received at least 1 opioid prescription during a median follow-up of 7.5 (5.0, 10.7) years. Overall, there was an estimated 0.096 reduction in the global cognitive Z-score per year, including decreases of 0.050 in memory, 0.080 in language, 0.044 in visual-spatial cognition, and 0.112 in attention. In multivariable analyses, each receipt of an opioid prescription resulted in an additional -0.007 (95% CI -0.009, -0.005) change in global cognitive Z-score (p < 0.001), with significant effects seen in the domains of memory (-0.005, 95% CI -0.007, -0.003; p < 0.001), language (-0.002, 95% CI -0.003, 0.000; p = 0.024) and attention (-0.004, 95% CI -0.006, -0.002; p < 0.001) but not visual-spatial function (0.000, 95% CI -0.001, 0.001; p = 0.897). Opioid prescriptions were associated with incident mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in adjusted analysis (hazard ratio 1.21, 95% CI 1.04, 1.42; p = 0.014).

CONCLUSION: Prescription opioids are associated with small but statistically significant declines in long-term cognitive function in older adults, which may represent effects of opioids or other related factors.

PMID:36117241 | DOI:10.1111/jgs.18030

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