Can social support be a bad thing for older adults?

Posted on March 10, 2016

Photo: flickr

A recent study conducted by Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) researchers suggests that social support from family and friends does not have an entirely positive effect on mental health but is instead a 'mixed blessing'. This is the first study that demonstrates the simultaneous negative and positive effects of social support among Singaporean older adults and has implications for policy makers.

A study recently published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, by Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra and Shannon Ang from the Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE) at Duke-NUS, analysed data collected from surveys administered to 2766 older adults aged 62 to 97 who are a part of the Panel of Health and Aging in Singaporean Elderly (PHASE).

It found that receipt of social support, such as receiving money, food, clothing and housework help, reduced depressive symptoms among older individuals but at the same time made them feel like they had lost their control over their lives. This loss of control in turn increased their depressive symptoms, counteracting the positive effect of receiving social support. The study also found that the reduction in one's sense of control over their life was larger for women than in men.

Apart from being the first to explain why social support may have negative effects and how social support should be rethought to gain optimal benefit for older adults, this study calls for more research to be done in this area. The authors believe it would be beneficial to investigate if what they have found holds true in other populations and for other health outcomes.

Category(s):Aging & Geriatric Issues, Depression

Source material from Duke-NUS Medical School

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