Research on later life pain and mood presented at meeting

Researchers from across Cornell and investigators affiliated with the BCTR’s Translational Research Institute on Pain in Later Life (TRIPLL) shared new research findings earlier this month at the Gerontological Society of America’s annual scientific meeting in Boston.

TRIPLL is one of the most active and long-standing collaborations among the Cornell campuses. It comprising researchers and graduate students from the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Weill Cornell Medicine and Cornell Tech. The investigators presented research on barriers to older adults receiving mental health care at the end of life, why older adults seek information and make the decisions they do and an intergenerational program that teaches youth to interview older adults to learn life lessons.

portrait of Elaine Wethington

Elaine Wethington

“The Gerontological Society of America meeting is the leading international venue for presenting new findings on aging and health to our scientific peers” said Professor Elaine Wethington, one of the co-directors of TRIPLL and director the pilot study program. “It is an opportunity to showcase the work of our pilot investigators and to network with the world’s leading gerontologists. “

Much of the research presented by TRIPPL focused on the relationship between pain, mood and psychological distress and methods for managing chronic pain besides medications.

A TRIPLL-sponsored symposium looked specifically at developing and testing innovative pain interventions that do not involve taking medications. Researchers documented the psychological elements of pain and how cognitive-behavioral interventions can change patients’ perception of pain. They also found that coping skills training, step monitoring and goal-setting to encourage exercise were the intervention activities most likely to lead to pain relief among older adults.

One study, led by human development graduate student Abby Yip and associate professor Corinna Loeckenhoff, demonstrated how positive and negative emotions are associated with pain on a daily basis. TRIPPL researchers sent daily surveys to older adults with chronic pain to measure their mood and pain experiences. They found that patients who experienced positive feelings experienced less pain. They also found that experiencing negative emotions in the context of pain was associated with maladaptive coping strategies, such as avoiding physical activity, which may worsen pain in the long run.

TRIPPL pilot investigator Dr. Una Makris also reported on an intervention designed to improve outcomes of disability and depression in older veterans with chronic low-back pain and depression. The intervention will involve telephone calls from a health coach to encourage physical activity.

TRIPLL was founded in 2009 with a grant from the National Institute on Aging. It is one of 12 federally-funded Edward R. Roybal Centers for Translation of the Behavioral and Social Sciences of Aging across the nation; each one focuses on a different aspect related to the health and well-being of older Americans.

The institute brings together faculty from a variety of disciplines, including the social and behavioral sciences, gerontology, clinical medicine, epidemiology, and computer science to focus on non-pharmacologic methods of pain relief.