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Social Contact Predictive of Depression in Older Adults


Annals of Long-Term Care: Clinical Care and Aging. 2015;23(11):44.


ALTC Editors

A study recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggests that older adults who experience less-frequent in-person social contact are more likely to suffer from depression.

Lack of social contact has been implicated in the risk of depression and is particularly troubling in older adults. Loneliness, a subjective sense of inadequacy or dissatisfaction with one’s social relationships, is often conceptualized as perceived social isolation and is common in older adults. Previous studies have not examined the effect of frequency of particular modes of social contact on depression. It is unclear to what extent older adults use each mode of social contact, who the contacts are with, and whether the association between social contacts and depression varies according to mode of social contact.

Alan R. Teo, MD, MS (Veterans Affairs Portland Health Care System, Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR), led a study to determine the associations between the use of different modes of social contact (in person, telephone, and written or email), contact with different types of people, and risk of depressive symptoms. Participants included individuals aged 50 years and older who are living in urban and suburban communities. The researchers measured frequency of participant use of the three modes of social contact with their children, other family members, and friends. Two years later, depressive symptoms were measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. The extent to which frequencies of the different modes of social contact predicted depression symptoms was then determined using multivariable logistic regression models.

Teo’s team determined that the probability of having depressive symptoms steadily increased as frequency of in-person contact decreased. Individuals who experienced in-person social contact every few months or less frequently had a higher probability of clinically significant depressive symptoms 2 years later (11.5%) than those having in-person contact once or twice per month (8.1%; P<.001) or once or twice per week (7.3%; P<.001).

Individuals who had written or email contact every few months or less had a 9.7% chance of depressive symptoms 2 years later, which was significantly higher than for those who had written contact once or twice per month (6.2%; P=.001). However, a similar effect was not seen for telephone contact.

The study’s findings suggest that in-person and written forms of social contact confer unique benefits to the mental wellbeing of older adults ( The authors concluded, “Clinicians and researchers should consider by what means and with whom people have social contact when considering promotion of social support for older adults at risk of depression.”—Kara Rosania

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