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Poor social health associated with increased CVD risk, finds Australian study

By Melanie Hinze
Social isolation, lack of social support and loneliness have a role in cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, according to the results of research published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

In a cross­-sectional study, researchers estimated the 10­year CVD risk for 11,498 healthy, community dwelling Australians, aged 70 years or older (53.3% women) from the ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial and the ASPREE Longitudinal Study of Older Persons substudy.

They found that loneliness was associated with greater Atherosclerotic CVD Risk Scale (ASCVDRS), social isolation was associated with greater Framingham Risk Score (FRS), and the social health composite of being lonely (regardless of social isolation and/or social support status) was associated with greater ASCVDRS. Among men, loneliness was also associated with greater FRS, and not being socially supported with greater ASCVDRS.

In addition to CVD differen­ces, the study found social health differences between women and men. Men were more likely to be socially isolated and not socially supported, but less likely to be lonely, whereas women were more likely to be in good social health across all three constructs.

Heart Foundation interim CEO, Professor Garry Jennings said the study provided new insights into the connection between mental health, social health and CVD. It was also timely, as the COVID­-19 pandemic posed significant challenges, including increased reports of psychological distress and feelings of isolation.

‘We know that anxiety, depression, social isolation and loneliness can increase the risk of CVD, and they result in worse outcomes, such as poorer quality of life and increased morbidity and mortality’, he said.

‘GPs are often the first point of contact for people experiencing mental health issues, so they have a critical role in the early identification of these conditions as a means of preventing and treating CVD.’

He said that the Heart Foundation encouraged GPs to discuss social isolation and loneliness with their patients, when appropriate, and to help patients seek social support to reduce isolation.

‘We encourage GPs to incorporate a mental health assessment as part of routine heart checks, and screening patients for depression using established tools such as the Patient Health Questionnaire­-9.’

‘Screening for depression is especially recommended for patients who have been diagnosed with CVD,’ he said. ‘Depression is prevalent among these patients, and we know that having both conditions can reduce quality of life and increase mortality,’ he added.
Int J Geriatr Psychiatry 2021; 1-15.