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Keywords:

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

Objectives

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.

Design

Population-based observational cohort.

Setting

Urban and suburban communities throughout the contiguous United States.

Participants

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

Measurements

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.

Results

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.

Conclusion

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.