Does Mode of Contact with Different Types of Social Relationships Predict Depression in Older Adults? Evidence from a Nationally Representative Survey

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2015 Oct;63(10):2014-22. doi: 10.1111/jgs.13667. Epub 2015 Oct 6.


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.

Keywords: e-mail; face-to-face; in-person; social isolation; telephone; written.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult Children
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Electronic Mail
  • Family
  • Female
  • Friends
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Social Isolation
  • Telephone
  • United States / epidemiology