How loneliness and depression affect digestive health in older people

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While older Americans are living longer, a surprising number are struggling with digestive diseases.

Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease aren’t just painful; they’re also costly to manage.

According to Shirley Ann Cohen-Mekelburg, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Michigan Medicine, the high number of adults with these issues is a big concern. It’s one that healthcare providers are trying to understand better.

Digging Deeper: The Emotional Side of Digestive Health

Doctors usually focus on the physical symptoms of digestive diseases. But Cohen-Mekelburg thinks they’re missing an important piece of the puzzle: people’s emotional and social well-being.

In other words, things like how lonely or stressed you feel could be affecting your stomach and intestines. This angle is often overlooked, but Cohen-Mekelburg says it could be a game-changer for treating digestive diseases.

To explore this idea, she and her team studied the emotional health of older adults, both with and without digestive issues. Using data from a big University of Michigan study, they focused on people aged 50 and above.

They looked at loneliness, depression, and social isolation to see if these emotional factors had any connection to digestive health.

What the Numbers Say: The Emotional Toll of Digestive Diseases

Out of over 7,000 participants, 56% had a digestive disease and 44% did not. When asked about their emotional well-being, more than half of those with digestive diseases reported feeling lonely, compared to less than half of those without such diseases.

Likewise, a higher percentage of people with digestive problems reported severe depression.

Most strikingly, those with digestive diseases who were lonely or depressed were more likely to say their overall health was “poor or fair.”

This suggests that emotional well-being could be directly affecting the physical health of those with digestive diseases.

The Way Forward: Treating Mind and Body

Cohen-Mekelburg hopes that these findings will encourage doctors to start asking patients about their emotional lives.

Screening for depression and loneliness could help healthcare providers understand the full picture of their patient’s health.

“Doctors are in a unique position to help their patients achieve good overall health,” says Cohen-Mekelburg.

Especially for those who treat older adults, understanding the link between emotional health and digestive issues can offer a more complete approach to healthcare.

By checking on both the body and the mind, doctors might be able to offer more effective treatments, ultimately improving the lives of millions struggling with digestive diseases.

If you care about depression, please read studies about Almost 25% of Americans met criteria for ‘moderate depression’ during COVID-19 pandemic and findings of Second med may treat depression better in older people.

For more information about depression, please read studies about the key to depression recovery, and this stuff in your diet may cause depression.

The research findings can be found in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

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