Researcher Studies Osteoarthritis

From the November 2014 edition of Desktop News | Osteoarthritis, for many people, isn’t a matter of “what if” – it’s a matter of “when.”

Despite how common osteoarthritis has become, analyses beyond discomfort and disability of the degenerative joint disease have been limited. And while osteoarthritis, pain and depression have been previously linked, dynamics with sleep disturbances and long-term well-being haven’t been explored.

Dr. Patricia Parmelee, director of the Center for Mental Health and Aging and a professor in the College’s Department of Psychology, has discovered links between high levels of pain, symptoms of depression and sleep disturbances.

A four-year study of 367 people in Philadelphia showed participants with greater symptoms of depression had experienced more pain and worsened sleep problems. Additionally, the study showed a combination of sleep disturbance and high pain at the baseline led to much greater depression.

“What we add is a focus on depression over time and how sleep disturbance both affects the experience of osteoarthritis and its long-term impact, but also how it interacts with discomfort to affect depression,” Parmelee said. “Cross-sectionally, we see an association with depression and pain and osteoarthritis, and, when someone has sleep disturbances, they’re at high risk of depression.”

The study included older adults who had been previously diagnosed with osteoarthritis in their knees. The participants were interviewed three times over two years. The original scope of the study was to measure how osteoarthritis affected fun things participants liked to do, like exercising or gardening. Participants were outfitted with devices to monitor physical activity.

“We weren’t thinking about sleep with the original study,” Parmelee said. “It wasn’t on my radar until after data had been collected. I became interested in sleep because of the connection between sleep and depression.”

Parmelee’s new goal is to determine how osteoarthritis interacts with the body to cause sleep disturbances and depression. Ultimately, follow-up research will help determine proper intervention and treatment options.

Parmelee’s new study, which takes a closer and more detailed look at the connection between osteoarthritis and sleep, is based in Tuscaloosa and funded by the National Institute on Aging.

Parmelee’s findings were recently published in Arthritis Care and Research, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology.