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Arthritis’ devastating impact on young adults

young adultsA recent Canadian research published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders found that older adults with arthritis are less likely than young and middle-aged adults to report worse outcomes that include more pain, sleep disturbance, and impaired mental health. Regardless of age, the researchers stress the importance of timely diagnosis and treatment for all ages in order to prevent or minimize arthritis-related impairment.

The study examined and compared the physical and mental health effects of arthritis in older Canadian adults (75+ years) and younger adults (20-44, 45-64, and 65-74 years). Led by Siobhan O’Donnell, MSc, an epidemiology researcher at the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention in Ottawa, the study analyzed poll data on 4,565 respondents from the arthritis component of the 2009 Survey on Living with Chronic Diseases in Canada (a cross-sectional follow-up survey to the larger 2008 Canadian Community Health Survey). The survey looked at the following:

  • Associations between age
  • Prevalence of severe/frequent joint pain
  • Prevalence of severe/frequent fatigue
  • Sleep limitations
  • Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) limitations
  • High stress levels
  • Suboptimal general and mental health

Highlights and findings from the study include:

  • 63.1% of respondents were female, of working age (59.9%), and overweight or obese (67%)
  • Covariates that were taken into consideration were sex, BMI, education, arthritis type, number of painful joints, disease duration, and other chronic conditions
  • Young adults aged 20-44 years and/or middle-aged adults aged 45-64 years were more likely than people aged 75 years and older to report severe/frequent joint pain, sleep limitations, high stress levels, and suboptimal mental health
  • Those aged 75 years and older were more likely to report poorer general health
  • Age was not associated with IADL limitations, sever/frequent fatigue, or suboptimal general health

According to the authors of the study, the more frequent and severe pain and fatigue in younger adults may be linked to sleep difficulties. The reason for this is because pain is a known mediator of sleep problems in individuals with arthritis. Data collected from a pervious population based research supports the research findings that high stress and worse self-rated mental health are more common in younger and middle-aged arthritis patients. A research from the USA also found that individuals with arthritis younger than 65 years had more anxiety and depression than those who are older.

Middle-aged adults reported more frustration in living with osteoarthritis pain as it was more disruptive of their activities/roles related to work and family, and threatened their future plans. These patients did not expect this type of pain at their particular stage in life. They may be unable to participate in activities that add value to their life, which can have a negative impact on their psychological health.

Authors of the study noted the following limitations:

  • Older patients may under-report pain, thinking that pain is a natural process of aging
  • Younger and working patients may get more help and support if they report pain
  • Self-reported data can be unreliable and affected by a patient’s ability to self-monitor and be free from social desirability biases
  • There is a long time gap of 3 to 14 months between the original 2008 survey and the 2009 follow-up interviews that may affect an individual’s body weight