Background Evidence suggests that social networks improve functional recovery after stroke, but this work has not been extended to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Post-stroke depression interferes with functional outcome but is understudied in LMICs. Aims To determine the relationships between social networks, disability, and depressive symptoms in patients surviving 90-days post-stroke in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Methods Participants ≥ 18 years, admitted ≤ 14 days of stroke onset, were enrolled. Disability was measured using the modified Rankin Scale, social networks by the Berkman-Syme social network index, and depressive symptoms by the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) by telephone interview at 90 days. A Kruskal-Wallis test or Spearman's correlation coefficient was used to assess the associations between social networks, depressive symptoms, and disability. Results Of 176 participants, 43% (n = 75) died, with an additional 11% (n = 20) lost to follow-up by 90 days. Among 81 survivors, 94% (n = 76, 57% male, average age 54 years) had complete information on all scales (mean and median follow-up time of 101 and 88 days). Thirty percent (n = 23, 41.9%, 95% confidence interval 20.2) had at least mild depressive symptoms (PHQ-9 ≥ 5 points). Nearly two-thirds (n = 46, 61%) reported ≥ 3 close friends. A higher social network index score was associated with fewer depressive symptoms (p < 0.0001) and showed a trend towards significance with lower disability (p = 0.061). Higher depressive symptom burden was correlated with higher disability (r = 0.52, p < 0.0001). Conclusion Post-stroke social isolation is associated with more depressive symptoms in Tanzania. Understanding social networks and the associated mechanisms of recovery in stroke is especially relevant in the context of limited resources.
Keywords: Africa; Stroke; depression; disability; epidemiology; social networks.