While arthritis is associated with a deteriorating physical condition, a new study suggests that it also can affect an arthritis patient’s psychological condition.
Arthritis includes more than 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions, the most common of which is osteoarthritis. Other forms of arthritis that occur often are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and gout. Symptoms include pain, aching, stiffness, and swelling in or around the joints. Some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, can affect multiple organs and cause widespread symptoms.
An estimated 50 million U.S. adults (about 1 of 5) report having doctor-diagnosed arthritis. As the U.S. population ages, the number of adults with arthritis is expected to increase sharply to 67 million by 2030. Not surprising is that arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, although all age groups, including children, can suffer from the condition..
According to a new study conducted by the Department of Exercise Science in the University of South Carolina and reported in the on-line dailyRx News, there is a link between an arthritis sufferer’s physical abilities and their perceived level of disability and mood. Altogether, 401 adults with arthritis, most of whom were women, participated in the study. The participants were asked to rate their depressive symptoms on a scale from zero to three based on a 10-item questionnaire called the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale.
The researchers found that patients who perceived their disability to be more limiting were more likely to be depressed than patients who thought their arthritis did not limit their quality of life. The study also suggested that when arthritis patients had trouble performing certain exercises, it tended to impact their mood.
For example, the researchers found that patients who did not perform as well as others on the chair stand test (which measures lower body strength) and involves counting how many times in a 30-second period a person could sit down in a chair and stand back up using only their legs, they were more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms.
According to the researchers, the conclusions of this study could be used to change how doctors treat arthritis by addressing coping skills along with physical symptoms.
A previous study showed that a significant number of people with arthritis also had depression, a mental health condition characterized by a persistent low mood.
It is possible that the limited physical ability that comes with arthritis could make an arthritis patient more likely to have depression.
This measure may be a particularly strong indicator of mental health status, perhaps because lower body strength is most essential to completing activities of daily living and maintaining independence.
But the strongest association was between perceived disability and depressive symptoms. Participants who felt as though they could not accomplish their daily activities without help were more likely to be depressed, even if they had an average score on the physical tests.
Like many chronic conditions, depression and arthritis are a cycle, so when physical health worsens, it can bring on the onset of depression.
For people with arthritis, physical therapy and pain relief may result in incomplete treatment if the patient’s mental health is not addressed, according to the study.
The message for caregivers is that by taking steps to help arthritis sufferers lead a more active lifestyle, their physical and mental state can improve. Our home care aides, working with your healthcare team, can make recommendations to begin and sustain the process.
Richard E Ueberfluss, PT