Exploring women’s arthritis issues and needs

Chronic diseases decrease social participation in middle-age population

Three girls in front of a blue backgroundA recent study from McMaster University found that middle-aged adults living with a combination of arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and/or depression are more likely to experience disability and limited involvement in society.

The research was conducted by Lauren Griffith, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatics and the McLaughlin Foundation Professorship in Population and Public Health. Researchers from McMaster University published the study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community HealthThey found that physical and mental chronic diseases, alone or in combination, were associated with disability and reduced social participation. The results differed by gender and age.

“These findings help us to better understand, at a population level, the biggest drivers of disability for middle-aged and older adults,” said Griffith. “What this research shows is that depending on your age and sex, the specific chronic diseases most highly associated with disability in the population differ.” This study is unique because it examines the combination of both physical and mental chronic disease on disability and social participation. Previous researches only looked at how one disease affects disability and social participation.

The study analyzed population-based data from more than 15,000 participants in the Canadian Community Health Survey on Healthy Aging. Conducted in 2008 and 2009, the survey collected information from adults aged 45 to 85 years old who were not institutionalized and living in one of 10 Canadian provinces.

Below are the research findings:

  • Arthritis was consistently associated with disability for men and women across most age groups.
  • In middle-aged adults (45-54 years), depression and arthritis were most often associated with disability and social participation restrictions, especially in women.
  • Compared to women, combinations of chronic conditions that included diabetes and heart disease were stronger drivers of disability in men, especially in the younger age group (45-54 years).

Griffith and her team hopes that knowing which chronic diseases are associated with greater disability and social participation limitations may help clinicians to target treatment strategies for patients. The information could also help policy-makers develop preventative health strategies for individual disease, as well as clusters of diseases.

“Oftentimes, when we are looking at disability, especially for chronic conditions, we are looking at the 65 and older age group,” Griffith said. “But if we want to be able to develop interventions earlier to help prevent or slow down the progression of disability, we need to start looking at the impact of chronic conditions on younger age groups.”