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Social relations and depression in late life—A systematic review

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Abstract

Objective

Social relations have become the focus of much research attention when studying depressive symptoms in older adults. Research indicates that social support and being embedded in a network may reduce the risk for depression. The aim of the review was to analyze the association of social relations and depression in older adults.

Methods

Electronic databases were searched systematically for potentially relevant articles published from January 2000 to December 2012. Thirty-seven studies met the inclusion criteria for this review.

Results

Factors of social relations were categorized into 12 domains. Factors regarding the qualitative aspects of social relations seem to be more consistent among studies and therefore provide more explicit results. Thus, social support, quality of relations, and presence of confidants were identified as factors of social relations significantly associated with depression. The quantitative aspects of social relations seem to be more inconsistent. Cultural differences become most obvious in terms of the quantitative aspects of social relations.

Conclusion

Despite the inconsistent results and the methodological limitations of the studies, this review identified a number of factors of social relations that are significantly associated with depression. The review indicates that it is needful to investigate social relations in all their complexity and not reduce them to one dimension. Simultaneously, it is important to conduct longitudinal studies because studies with cross-sectional design do not allow us to draw conclusions on causality. Beyond that, cultural differences need to be considered. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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