Between 4.8 million and 5.3 million Canadians live with osteoarthritis (OA), and many begin to pull away from their social circles and neighbourhood networks as a result of complications from the disease.
It's painful or difficult to leave the house, so they choose not to.
Research surrounding OA has traditionally focused on the physical manifestations of the disease, severe joint pain and limited range of joint movement leading to difficulties performing day-to-day activities – but experts are realizing the need to investigate the disease's impact on one's quality of life within the broader social context.
Dr. Anthony Perruccio, an epidemiologist and scientist at the Krembil Research Institute, and Dr. Rajiv Gandhi, a Krembil clinician investigator and orthopaedic surgeon at Toronto Western Hospital, are currently looking at how OA can impact engagement in social activities, starting with examining the concept of healthy aging.
"When people talk about healthy aging, they talk about how they feel physically and their mobility, but there is also an added component of engaging socially," says Dr. Perruccio.
The research will focus on how pain in OA leads to daily activity limitations and, in turn, to social participation issues, and what factors may exacerbate or dampen these effects. These studies will gather information from national and provincial health studies currently underway, while others will rely on patient surveys detailing the social limitations experienced as a result of living with OA.
Not surprisingly, the researchers expect to find not only that joint pain leads to missed life activities, but also how often this can lead to depression.
"There's a pretty big overlap," explains Dr. Gandhi. "As quality of life goes down, you're not participating in usual social activities and you can become depressed.
"And depression itself can increase the physiological sensation of pain, so you can see a downward spiral."
The Krembil Research Institute and the Globe and Mail have teamed up for a special project designed to highlight the tremendous achievements of the science and research programs at Krembil. The first of three magazines in this series looks at the brain and spine program, a second highlights the vision program and a final edition, which is also now available on line, explores the arthritis program.