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Prior research has typically found a negative relationship between chronic pain and memory, and we examined whether cognitive control processes (e.g. reflection and rumination) moderated this relationship in individuals with Chiari malformation Type I (CM). CM is a neurological condition in which the cerebellar tonsils descend into the medullary and upper cervical spine regions potentially resulting in severe headaches and neck pain.
CM patients who had (n = 341) and had not (n = 297) undergone decompression surgery completed the McGill Pain Questionnaire-Short Form-Revised (SF-MPQ-2), the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), and the Rumination-Reflection Questionnaire (RRQ). Immediate recall scores were compared to those of 102 healthy controls, and delayed recall performance was compared across other variables within the CM group.
CM patients performed more poorly on immediate recall than did controls. Within CM patients, we observed main effects for reflection and age, and a pain x reflection x surgical status (surgery v. no surgery) interaction in which non-decompressed individuals with low levels of pain and high levels of reflection showed superior delayed recall relative to non-decompressed individuals with higher pain and all decompressed individuals.
CM patients show an immediate recall deficit relative to controls, regardless of surgical status. High levels of reflection were associated with better delayed recall performance in non-decompressed CM patients with lower pain levels. High levels of chronic pain may overwhelm increased focused attention abilities, but higher levels of reflection partially overcome the distracting effects of pain and this may represent a type of resilience.
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