Background: The purpose of the study was to validate a set of measures of social networks that will be useful in epidemiological studies of the health of older persons.
Methods: Confirmatory factor analysis was used to test a multi-dimensional model of social networks. Data were drawn from The Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing, conducted in the greater metropolitan area of Adelaide, South Australia. Participants were 1477 persons aged > or = 70 years who lived in the community or an institution and took part in the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Social networks with children, other relatives, friends and confidants were considered. Demographic indicators of gender, age group, income, education, marital status and place of residence were also measured, and social networks were compared for categories of these variables.
Results: Networks with children, relatives, friends and confidants were substantiated in these analyses. Differences in networks between categories of the demographic variables were evident.
Discussion: Adoption of the proposed measures will allow greater comparability between studies of older persons. This could lead to a better understanding of the effect of specific social networks upon health.