Physical health and mental health are widely understood to be interconnected. Studies show that adults with chronic physical health problems suffer from depression at two to three times the rate of those in good physical health. As people grow older, the likelihood of developing common health problems that cause chronic pain, such as osteoarthritis, increases. In fact, it’s estimated that 13% of the elderly population experiences both chronic pain and depression simultaneously. Chronic knee pain is a prime example of a condition that can set the stage for depression—examining how depression and pain are interconnected can help illuminate why.
Depression Among Older Adults and the Link to Physical Health
People over the age of 65 are at increasing risk of experiencing factors that can lead to depression beyond physical problems alone, including the loss of loved ones, social isolation, and loneliness. According to CDC data, however, the risk for developing depression is highest among the elderly who require home health care, which points to the profound impact physical disability and pain have on a person’s mental state.
Persistent pain isn’t simply a stressor that can erode mental well-being over time. It also directly interferes with habits that are known to be beneficial for supporting both physical and mental health, such as getting proper sleep and regular exercise. The National Council on Aging identifies decreased functional ability, reduced mobility, and lack of physical activity as unique depression risk factors affecting the elderly—and chronic pain can make experiencing any or all of these more likely.
Knee Osteoarthritis in the Elderly
The knee is one of the joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis, and the rates of those affected have risen dramatically since the mid-twentieth century. As a degenerative disease, it gets worse over time, and its symptoms can ultimately make even ordinary daily activities difficult or impossible. Knee osteoarthritis pain tends to get worse with activity, and stiffness in the joint can make it hard to climb stairs, get into or out of a car, or simply walk.
Thus, a person with chronic knee pain might be unable to take a walk with friends and family, or they might have to limit favorite activities like golf or dancing. They might be unable to travel or to enjoy family gatherings because their pain makes them unable to participate fully. Physical inactivity further weakens their health, and the isolation and feeling of missing out heightens the risk of depression.
Unfortunately, the elderly face an additional challenge with knee osteoarthritis—the thought that there may be no help for their condition. Typically, when traditional conservative care to manage symptoms ceases to provide any relief, knee replacement is recommended. However, this major surgery, which requires extensive rehabilitation afterward, may not be a realistic option for older patients, especially if they have preexisting medical conditions that could increase the risk of complications. It’s no wonder that depression may follow for those who believe they will never experience relief from chronic knee pain.
An Effective Alternative for Knee Osteoarthritis
Now, patients are not limited to the binary choice of conservative care or knee replacement. Genicular artery embolization (GAE) is a minimally invasive nonsurgical procedure performed on an outpatient basis that can treat the pain of knee osteoarthritis and improve mobility. It works by blocking blood flow to the lining of the knee (synovium), permanently reducing painful inflammation. Because it does not require general anesthesia, large incisions, a hospital stay, or a lengthy course of physical therapy in recovery, it can be an appropriate alternative for patients who aren’t good candidates for surgery. The results are long-lasting, and patients can resume normal activities the day after the procedure.
At AVA Vascular, expert interventional radiologist Dr. Nikhil Patel specializes in procedures like GAE that allow patients to reclaim good quality of life without the risks of surgery. We accept Medicare patients; if you or a loved one have been suffering from chronic knee pain, we encourage you to come in to find out more about your options for treating your knee osteoarthritis successfully and safely. To schedule a consultation, contact AVA Vascular here.