Benedetti, et. al.
Pain perception and autonomic responses to pain are known to be altered in dementia, although the mechanisms are poorly understood. We studied patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) whose cognitive status was assessed through the Mini Mental State Examination test and whose brain electrical activity was measured by means of quantitative electroencephalography. After assessment of both cognitive impairment and brain electrical activity deterioration, these patients underwent sensory measurements in which the minimum stimulus intensity for both stimulus detection and pain sensation was determined. In addition, heart rate responses to pain threshold×1.5 were recorded. We found that neither stimulus detection nor pain threshold was correlated to cognitive status and brain electrical activity decline. By contrast, we found a correlation between heart rate responses and deterioration of both cognitive functions and brain electrical activity. In particular, the heart rate increase after pain stimulation was correlated to the presence of slow brain electrical activity (delta and theta frequencies). This correlation was also found for the anticipatory heart rate increase just before pain stimulation. These results indicate that pain anticipation and reactivity depend on both the cognitive status and the frequency bands of the electroencephalogram, whereas both stimulus detection and pain threshold are not affected by the progression of AD. These findings indicate that, whereas the sensory-discriminative components of pain are preserved even in advanced stages of AD, the cognitive and affective functions, which are related to both anticipation and autonomic reactivity, are severely affected. This sensory-affective dissociation is well correlated with the neuropathological findings in AD.