Frontal Lobe Function and Pain in the Elderly

Patrick McNamara, Marlene Oscar-Berman, Martin Albert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We review the literature on pain and aging and conclude that evidence supports a hypothesis that right frontal cortex contributes to the mediation of the chronic pain experience in elderly persons with chronic pain syndromes. Evidence for the right frontal pain hypothesis comes from clinical, neurocognitive, and neuroimaging studies, which implicate right inferior and orbitofrontal cortex in (1) the persistent pain experience, (2) negative emotional states, (3) retrieval of negative emotional and autobiographical memories, (4) regulation of autonomic arousal, and (5) regulation of attentional and pain functions of the anterior cingulate region. Right frontal dysfunction is also implicated in the effects of cognitive aging. If right frontal neurocognitive systems are affected in cognitively impaired elderly, and if (by hypothesis) the right frontal cortex also plays a major role in the experience of chronic pain, then cognitively impaired elderly with right frontal dysfunction should be protected to some extent from persistent pain syndromes. Available evidence supports this proposition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-119
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Adult Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The writing of this paper was supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (R37-AA07112 and K05-00219) and by funds from the Medical Research Service of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.


  • Aging
  • Cerebral mechanisms
  • Frontal lobes
  • Pain
  • Right hemisphere


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