Digestive diseases in older adults lead to higher rates of loneliness and depression, impacting overall health, according to a study. Researchers from the University of Michigan in the US referred to loneliness as the subjective distressed feeling of being alone or lacking companionship. The correlation between loneliness and depression is well established. While life expectancy rates for the elderly are rising due to advancements in healthcare, many report living with a digestive disease of some kind. The researchers said in recent years, there has been a greater emphasis among health providers on detecting why so many people are developing digestive diseases.
“As physicians, it’s important for us to pay attention to psychosocial factors involved in the lives of our patients, but they often go overlooked,” said Shirley Ann Cohen-Mekelburg, a gastroenterologist at Michigan Medicine.”These factors have the potential to significantly impact gastrointestinal health, and they also play a crucial role in the overall wellbeing of our patients,” she added.
To examine the rates of loneliness, depression and social isolation in older adults both with and without digestive diseases, the team analysed the data from 2008 to 2016 involving 20,000 individuals in the US who are 50 years and older, as well as their spouses. The findings, published in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, showed that individuals with a digestive disease were more likely to report ‘poor-or-fair’ health when compared to those without one.
Among patients with a digestive disease, loneliness, as well as moderate to severe depression, were associated with greater odds of self-reporting ‘poor-or-fair’ health, Cohen-Mekelburg said. Overall, 60.4 per cent and 55.6 per cent of respondents with and without digestive diseases reported loneliness, while 12.7 per cent and 7.5 per cent reported severe depression, and 8.9 per cent and 8.7 per cent reported social isolation, respectively, she noted.“Hope these findings eventually empower gastroenterologists to screen patients for depression and loneliness. By doing this, providers can better establish care pathways for mental health treatment for their patients, which is hugely important,” Cohen-Mekelburg said.