Study finds link between arthritis and depression in older people

Arthritis is more prevalent in older people with depression, a US study has found, highlighting the importance of screening for arthritic symptoms in those with poor mental health.

A study published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry looked at the physical and mental health of 4,792 people aged 50 or older, 43.7% of whom had been formally diagnosed with arthritis.

Arthritis rates were lowest in participants with no depression, with only 38.2% of whom having received an arthritis diagnosis.

Fifty-five per cent of those who claimed to have “minor” depression had arthritis; 62.9% with “moderate” depression had the condition; and 67.8% who reported “severe” depression had arthritis.

The research – conducted by Dartmouth College, University of North Texas, University of Michigan and Weill Cornell Medical College – shows the importance of considering arthritis and depressive symptoms as co-occurring physical and mental issues for older adults.

It suggests several potential reasons for the association between arthritis and depression, including:

  • the likelihood for arthritis being a disabling condition;
  • greater likelihood of arthritis sufferers worrying about potential treatment and rehabilitation outcomes;
  • poor coping strategies and reduced physical activity; and
  • a “common biological mechanism” such as a neuroimmune issue, resulting in inflammation and therefore worsening arthritic symptoms.

“Notably, there were significant associations between moderate depression and arthritis, even after adjusting for age, gender, race, education, smoking status, binge drinking, sedentary behaviour, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease,” the study finds.

“These findings suggest that moderate depression and arthritis tend to co‐occur among older adults, independent of other factors that are known contributors to both depression and arthritis.”

It also states that addressing arthritis in mental health treatment may also help reduce the overlapping symptoms in older adults. Brief screening procedures and conventional depression care might fail to alleviate the symptoms that occur when both conditions are experienced at the same time.

“Understanding that depressive symptoms and arthritis may be interlinked in older adults is critical when making decisions for health care budget allocation to ensure availability and access to appropriate services,” the study concludes.

Earlier this year the minister for disabled people, health and work, Sarah Newton, urged employers to make adjustments for people with arthritis to encourage more people with the condition into work.

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