A study developed by researchers at the University of Michigan (United States) concludes that older people with digestive diseases experience greater loneliness and depression. “We found that individuals with digestive disease were more likely to report ‘poor or fair’ health than those without digestive disease. And among patients with digestive disease, there was an increased risk of loneliness, as well as moderate to severe depression, self-mutilation. were associated with a greater likelihood of reporting ‘poor or fair’ health, said Michigan Medicine gastroenterologist Shirley Ann Cohen-Meckelberg, who participated in the research published in “Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology.”
In recent years, health care providers have placed greater emphasis on finding out why so many Americans develop digestive diseases, Cohen-Meckelberg said. However, he said, current approaches often do not take into account how psychosocial elements contribute to these conditions.
He said, “As physicians, it is important that we pay attention to the psychosocial factors that play a role in our patients’ lives, but are often overlooked.” “These factors have the potential to significantly influence gastrointestinal health, and they also play an important role in the overall well-being of our patients,” the researcher stressed.
This idea inspired Cohen-Meckelberg and a team of fellow gastroenterologists and hepatologists to examine rates of loneliness, depression, and social isolation in older adults with and without digestive diseases. The research analyzed data from 2008 to 2016 from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal panel that included a representative sample of nearly 20,000 individuals ages 50 and older, as well as their spouses.
“It is important to note that loneliness refers to the distressing subjective feeling of being alone or lacking company. The relationship between loneliness and depression is well established,” Cohen-Meckelberg explained. “There are people who live isolated, but are well adapted, do not feel lonely and report high psychological well-being. On the other hand, there are people who are socially connected, but less psychological suffer from well-being and loneliness. And this is despite having a solid social network,” he said.
The expert hopes these findings will guide gastroenterologists to “screen patients for depression and loneliness” in addition to their physical symptoms. “By doing this, providers can establish better care pathways for their patients’ mental health treatment, which is extremely important,” he said.