Research: Social connection critical for people with diabetes

Bolton Clarke Research Institute’s Dr Rajna Ogrin

People with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of social isolation and loneliness, but fostering an understanding of the importance of social connection can support better health outcomes.

Bolton Clarke Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr Rajna Ogrin cites research showing that loneliness is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes and can lead to further complications for those living with the condition.

“We know that loneliness is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, with the effect more pronounced in individuals with a mental health condition. People with stronger social connections are at lower risk,” Dr Ogrin said.

Dr Ogrin highlights that loneliness in people with diabetes is a potent and often neglected risk factor for cardiovascular disease. “It ranks higher than depression and lifestyle factors including smoking, inactivity, and diet as a predictor for cardiovascular disease for people with diabetes,” she added.

Diabetes-related stigma also poses a significant challenge. Dr Ogrin noted that around four in five people with diabetes have experienced stigma, which can negatively impact health, self-care, well-being and social lives.

Addressing social needs is crucial for achieving better well-being outcomes.

“Holistic care that considers biological, psychological, and social factors isn’t yet something that’s consistently done well across our health care system.”

Bolton Clarke Research Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr Rajna Ogrin

Social interactions are cognitively complex, and staying social provides a good cognitive workout, reducing the risk of dementia, frailty, and functional decline. It’s essential for health, wellbeing, and community resilience.

Dr Ogrin is advocating for social prescribing, an approach where clinicians or community workers recognise non-clinical health needs and refer people to community support, as it could have an immediate positive impact.

National Diabetes Week runs from July 14-21, providing an opportunity to raise awareness and promote the importance of social connection for people with diabetes.

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