Mode of Social Contact and Depression: A Nationally Representative Sample of Older Adults

Award Type: None
Funding Agency: None
Role on Project: Principal Investigator

Social isolation has been linked with many health problems including depression. Most surveys that assess frequency of social contact ask generally about contact. Yet it is clear that people can interact in many ways—whether in-person, via telephone, or by written contact. This is ever more true today with the emergence of social media. Likewise, more and more treatment interventions are being developed and adapted to be delivered via telephone or the computer. However, it is the frequency of in-person social contact with friends and family that independently predicts risk of subsequent depression in older adults. Clinicians should consider encouraging face-to-face social interactions as a preventative strategy for depression.

Frequency of participant use of the three modes of social contact (including in-person, telephone, written or email), with children, other family members, and friends at baseline were used to predict depressive symptoms 2 years later using multivariable logistic regression models. This study is a secondary analysis of data from the 2004 to 2014 U.S. Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a biennial panel study designed to permit analyses of effects and interrelationships of various changes and transitions for community-residing older Americans in the domains of health, finances, and family.

The primary benefits of this study are to society and the research community. Results of this study inform the development of interventions for depression treatment. In particular, they inform what modality of support, support--in-person, telephone-based, and/or written, is best suited and most effective for treatment interventions.