Understanding causal associations between self-rated health and personal relationships in older adults: A review of evidence from longitudinal studies

Arch Gerontol Geriatr. Sep-Oct 2014;59(2):211-26. doi: 10.1016/j.archger.2014.06.009. Epub 2014 Jul 8.


Background: As we age we experience many life changes in our health, personal relationships, work, or home life which can impact on other aspects of our life. There is compelling evidence that how we feel about our health influences, or is influenced by, the personal relationships we experience with friends and relatives. Currently the direction this association takes is unclear.

Aim: To assess the level of published evidence available on causal links between self-rated health and personal relationships in older adults.

Methods: MEDLINE, CINAHL, and PsycINFO searches from inception to June 2012 and hand searches of publication lists, reference lists and citations were used to identify primary studies utilizing longitudinal data to investigate self-rated health and personal relationships in older adults.

Results: Thirty-one articles were identified. Only three articles employed methods suitable to explore causal associations between changes in self-rated health and changes in personal relationships. Two of these articles suggested that widowhood leads to a reduction in self-rated health in the short term, while the remaining article suggested a causal relationship between self-rated health and negative emotional support from family or friends, but this was complex and mediated by self-esteem and sense of control.

Conclusion: While there is an abundance of longitudinal aging cohorts available which can be used to investigate self-rated health and personal relationships over time the potential for these databases to be used to investigate causal associations is currently not being recognized.

Keywords: Aging; Causation; Cohort studies; Longitudinal; Relationships; Self-rated health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Diagnostic Self Evaluation
  • Family / psychology
  • Friends / psychology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Longitudinal Studies