When older adults become socially isolated, their health and well-being can suffer. Now a new study suggests a link between being socially isolated and osteoarthritis (arthritis), a condition that causes joint pain and can limit a person’s ability to get around.
The findings are published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Arthritis patients often have other health issues which may increase their risk of becoming socially isolated. These include anxiety and depression, being afraid to move around (because arthritis makes moving painful), physical inactivity and being unable to take care of themselves.
About 30 percent of adults over 65 have arthritis to some degree, especially in their leg joints. Despite that, until now there has been little research on the link between arthritis and social isolation.
Researchers analyzed data from the European Project on OSteoArthritis (EPOSA) study. They wanted to examine any potential links between arthritis and social isolation, and to identify the disease’s contribution to social isolation.
EPOSA is a study of 2,942 adults between the ages of 65 to 85 years old who live in six European countries: Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. In all, 1,967 people, around the age of 73, participated in the study. Half of the participants were women, and almost 30 percent had arthritis.
The researchers looked at whether the participants were socially isolated at the beginning of the study as well as 12 to 18 months later. The participants completed questionnaires that kept track of how often they connected socially with friends and family members and how often they volunteered or participated in social activities.
At the start of the study, almost 20 percent were socially isolated. Those who weren’t socially isolated tended to be younger, had higher incomes and more education. They were also more likely to be physically active, had less physical pain, had faster walking times and were in better all-around health.
Of the 1,585 participants who weren’t considered socially isolated at the beginning of the study, 13 percent had become socially isolated 12 to 18 months later. They reported that their health and osteoarthritis had worsened, they were in more pain, had become less physically active, had slower walking times, and had depression and problems with thinking and making decisions.
The researchers say the findings suggest that osteoarthritis can increase the risk of social isolation. In particular, having problems with thinking and making decisions, as well as having slower walking times, is associated with an increased risk of becoming socially isolated.
Since social isolation can lead to poorer health, the researchers suggest that older adults with arthritis may benefit from engaging in physical activity and social activities. Specifically, they suggest that health care providers might refer people to senior centers where activities are specially designed for people with arthritis.
Source: American Geriatrics Society