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Issue 217 Item 12

Fading Social Life Signals Trouble in Diabetes
Issue 217 Item 12

Older diabetic patients who withdraw from their normal social activities may be showing early signs of deteriorating health. Researchers found that among more than 5,200 people with diabetes, age 65 and older, those who said they had recently curtailed their leisure activities were more likely than others to die or develop a disability over the next two years. None of the study participants had any apparent disabilities at the outset, suggesting, the authors say, that a diabetic person’s withdrawal from social life may be one of the first signs of declining health.

Disability develops over time, lead study author Dr. Yong-Fang Kuo stated, and this study suggests “social disengagement” happens early in the process.

She and her colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston report the findings in the July issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

For the study, the researcher analyzed data from a survey of Medicare managed care patients. They focused on results for 5,235 men and women who at the study’s start reported no problems with daily activities such as bathing, dressing and eating, and who gave complete survey data again two years later.

As part of the survey, participants were asked whether physical or emotional problems had caused them to cut back on their usual social activities in the past month. Kuo’s team found that those who had curbed their activities had a higher risk of dying or becoming disabled by the follow-up survey.

Overall, each 10-point increase in a participant’s social functioning score translated into an 18 percent lower risk of developing difficulties with daily tasks. A similar pattern emerged for the risk of dying, according to the report.

These relationships persisted regardless of factors such as age, smoking habits and other health conditions like heart disease, stroke, arthritis and depression. According to the authors, this suggests that a drop-off in social activities might be a “forerunner” to loss of independence and premature death.

Kuo said older diabetic patients and their doctors can discuss any changes in social life as a way to catch declining health early on. These patients, she and her colleagues conclude, should then be treated vigorously for any modifiable physical or emotional health problems they may have. Diabetes Care, July 2004.