An exploration of the relationship of social networks with depression among older adults : a prospective study : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand

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Research has highlighted social integration as a protective factor against depression among older adults. This thesis aims to clarify whether specific features of social networks are particularly important, the effect of perceived connectedness on the relationship between structural social integration and depressive symptoms, and whether social integration is a longitudinal predictor of depressive symptoms among older adults. The thesis also describes the social networks and prevalence of depression among older people in New Zealand, including older Māori, of which there is limited availability of existing research. The current study utilised data taken at three waves of measurement from 3594 community-dwelling older people living in New Zealand including 172 older Māori. The relationship between components of social network structure and depression were compared using standard statistical techniques. Consistent with previous research, contact with non-family social ties was significantly and negatively associated with depressive symptoms whereas contact with family was not significantly correlated. Unlike other studies, social network size significantly predicted depressive symptoms. A series of hierarchical multivariate linear regression models indicated that, after controlling for demographics and health variables such as age, functional ability and exercise, structural integration and perceived connectedness uniquely explained between 1 and 4% of the variability in depressive symptoms. According to a multilevel model for change, social integration did not predict different trajectories of depressive symptoms over 36-months. Perceived connectedness was found to mediate 29% of the effect of structural social integration on depressive symptoms. Results highlight the relative importance of perceived connectedness in older adults’ depression. Composite measures of structural social integration in depression research with older people are indicated with the exception of items related to family ties and marital status. Measures of social integration, especially objective measures based on social network structure, may not be reliable indicators of depression risk. These findings highlight a need for further investigation into the efficacy of social interventions, especially targeting non-family ties and perceived connectedness.
Depression, Older people, Social networks, Depression in old age, Depresson and social networks