• social isolation;
  • telephone;
  • written;
  • e-mail;
  • in-person;
  • face-to-face


To determine associations between use of three different modes of social contact (in person, telephone, written or e-mail), contact with different types of people, and risk of depressive symptoms in a nationally representative, longitudinal sample of older adults.


Population-based observational cohort.


Urban and suburban communities throughout the contiguous United States.


Individuals aged 50 and older who participated in the Health and Retirement Survey between 2004 and 2010 (N = 11,065).


Frequency of participant use of the three modes of social contact with children, other family members, and friends at baseline were used to predict depressive symptoms (measured using the eight-item Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale) 2 years later using multivariable logistic regression models.


Probability of having depressive symptoms steadily increased as frequency of in-person—but not telephone or written or e-mail contact—decreased. After controlling for demographic, clinical, and social variables, individuals with in-person social contact every few months or less with children, other family, and friends had a significantly 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). Older age, interpersonal conflict, and depression at baseline moderated some of the effects of social contact on depressive symptoms.


Frequency of in-person social contact with friends and family independently predicts risk of subsequent depression in older adults. Clinicians should consider encouraging face-to-face social interactions as a preventive strategy for depression.