Digestive Issues Among Elderly Could Be Linked To Depression and Loneliness, Study Shows

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A University of Michigan study reveals that nearly 40% of older Americans struggle with digestive issues like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The research establishes a connection between these conditions and elevated levels of loneliness and depression, highlighting the impact of digestive health on the well-being of the aging population.

Prevalence of digestive diseases high in the US

Michigan Medicine gastroenterologist Dr. Shirley Ann Cohen-Mekelburg emphasizes the high prevalence of conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis in ambulatory care. She notes the significant impact on healthcare spending and the debilitating nature of these conditions, which affect millions and incur high treatment costs.

Researchers highlight a growing interest in understanding the rise of digestive diseases among Americans. Dr. Cohen-Mekelburg emphasizes the need to consider psychosocial factors in current efforts to address these conditions.

The study emphasizes the significance of considering psychosocial factors in patient care, particularly in the realm of gastrointestinal health. Dr. Cohen-Mekelburg and a team of specialists conducted an analysis on loneliness, depression, and social isolation among older adults, comparing those with and without digestive diseases. The research aims to shed light on the impact of psychosocial factors on both gastrointestinal health and overall patient wellbeing.

Loneliness and depression linked to digestive issues

Dr. Cohen-Mekelburg and her research team aimed to quantify self-reported rates of poor health by analyzing data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study spanning 2008 to 2016. The study involved a representative sample of around 20,000 individuals aged 50 and above, along with their spouses.

It’s crucial to understand that loneliness is defined as the subjective distressed feeling of being alone or lacking companionship, and its correlation with depression is well-established.

The study reveals that isolated individuals may have high well-being, while socially connected individuals may experience low well-being and loneliness, regardless of a strong social network.

Dr. Cohen-Mekelburg said that they found that 60.4% and 55.6% of individuals with and without digestive diseases experienced loneliness. Additionally, 12.7% and 7.5% of respondents reported severe depression, and 8.9% and 8.7% reported social isolation among those with and without digestive diseases, respectively.

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