Support from children, living arrangements, self-rated health and depressive symptoms of older people in Spain

Int J Epidemiol. 2001 Oct;30(5):1090-9. doi: 10.1093/ije/30.5.1090.


Objective: To assess the association between emotional and instrumental support from children and living arrangements with the physical and mental health of older people in Spain.

Methods: A face-to-face home interview was carried out with 1284 community-dwelling people over 65 (response rate = 83%) randomly sampled according to an age- and sex-stratified sampling scheme in 1993 at Leganés (Spain). Close to 93% of the participants had children and 45% of them coresided with them. Depressive symptoms were assessed by the CES-D (Center for Epidemiologic study depression scale) and self-rated health (SRH) by a single-item question. Emotional support was measured with a six-item scale on affection and reciprocity. Instrumental support was assessed by help received from children in 17 activities of daily living. Four living arrangements were considered: Living with spouse only, living with a spouse and children, widower living alone, and widower living with children.

Results: Multivariate analysis controlling for age, gender, education and functional status showed that low emotional support and reception of instrumental aid were significantly associated with poor SRH. Being a widower and sharing living arrangements with children was associated with good SRH. Living arrangements modify some of the associations of support of children with SRH. Depressive symptoms were associated with low emotional support, reception of instrumental help and being a widower who did not share living arrangements with children. For widowers who do not cohabit with children, reception of instrumental aid is associated with low depressive symptomatology.

Discussion: Emotional support from children seems to play an important role in maintaining the physical and mental health of elderly people in Spain. Instrumental support is widely available. Coresidence with children is very common and it is associated with good self-perceived health and low prevalence of depressive symptoms in a culture where family interdependence is highly valued. Families should be protected and encouraged to continue care-giving through a variety of community services and respite care, adapted to their needs and preferences. Research should be undertaken to find more efficient ways to help family caregivers in the Mediterranean context.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Health Status*
  • Housing*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Social Support
  • Spain / epidemiology