Study reveals risk of isolation with type 2 diabetes diagnosis

A diagnosis of type 2 diabetes not only takes a toll on physical health, but leads to poorer quality of life and an increased risk of social isolation, new findings from the 45 and Up Study have revealed.

Dr Xiaoqi Feng and Associate Professor Thomas Astell-Burt from the Population Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab (PowerLab), University of Wollongong, investigated the impact of type 2 diabetes on mental health, quality of life and social contact among 26,344 participants from the 45 and Up Study, including 586 who were newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the follow-up period of around 3.5 years.

The Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study is the largest ongoing study of healthy ageing in the Southern Hemisphere, involving one in 10 NSW men and women aged over 45. The study authors said the longitudinal nature of the Study enabled them to look at changes in peoples’ diagnoses and health status over time.

Dr Xiaoqi Feng and Professor Thomas Astell-Burt investigated how diabetes diagnoses affected quality of life
Dr Xiaoqi Feng and Professor Thomas Astell-Burt investigated how diabetes diagnoses affected quality of life

Impact on quality of life

Their research revealed that people who were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were more than five times as likely to report that their quality of life had become significantly poorer than other Study participants.

The findings, recently published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, also showed that a diabetes diagnosis was associated with:

  • Reduction in time spent with friends and family
  • Reduction in contacts by telephone
  • Reduction in attendance at social clubs
  • Reduction in the number of people nearby, but outside the home, on whom participants felt they could rely.

There was a small increase in the odds of psychological distress associated with a type 2 diabetes diagnosis, but it was not statistically significant.

Long-term implications of diabetes

The researchers suggested that if people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes became socially isolated, it could have serious implications for how their disease was managed, including whether they were able to adhere to lifestyle modification programs, medication regimens and regular visits to the GP.

“Declining quality of life and increasing social isolation among people who are recently diagnosed with T2DM [type 2 diabetes mellitus] are scenarios that ought to be monitored closely by general practitioners and the local health sector if devastating and hugely expensive but preventable comorbidities and complications are to be successfully avoided,” they wrote.

The study was conducted as part of an NHMRC Project led by Associate Professor Astell-Burt (#1101065) and Dr Feng and also a National Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship (Dr Feng, #100948), both in collaboration with Western Sydney LHD and Diabetes NSW and ACT.

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