Social contact and inequalities in depressive symptoms and loneliness among older adults: a mediation analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

Green, M. J. , Whitley, E. , Niedzwiedz, C. L. , Shaw, R. J. and Katikireddi, S. V. (2021) Social contact and inequalities in depressive symptoms and loneliness among older adults: a mediation analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. SSM - Population Health, 13, 100726. (doi: 10.1016/j.ssmph.2021.100726) (PMID:33521227) (PMCID:PMC7820553)

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Background: Social contact, including remote contact (by telephone, email, letter or text), could help reduce social inequalities in depressive symptoms and loneliness among older adults. Methods: Data were from the 8th wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (2016/17), stratified by age (n=1,578 aged <65; n=4,026 aged 65+). Inverse probability weighting was used to estimate average effects of weekly in-person and remote social contact on depressive symptoms (score of 3+ on 8-item CES-D scale) and two measures of loneliness (sometimes/often feels lonely vs hardly ever/never; and top quintile of UCLA loneliness scale vs all others). We also estimated controlled direct effects of education, partner status, and wealth on loneliness and depressive symptoms under two scenarios: 1) universal infrequent (<weekly) in-person social contact; and 2) universal weekly remote social contact. Results: Weekly in-person social contact was associated on average with reduced odds of loneliness, but associations with remote social contact were weak. Lower education raised odds of depressive symptoms and loneliness, but differences were attenuated with infrequent in-person contact. Respondents living alone experienced more depressive symptoms and loneliness than those living with a partner, and less wealth was associated with more depressive symptoms. With universal infrequent in-person contact, these differences narrowed among those aged under 65 but widened among those aged 65+. Universal weekly remote contact had relatively little impact on inequalities. Conclusions: Reduced in-person social contact may increase depressive symptoms and loneliness among older adults, especially for those aged 65+ who live alone. Reliance on remote social contact seems unlikely to compensate for social inequalities.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Green, Dr Michael and Katikireddi, Professor Vittal and Whitley, Dr Elise and Niedzwiedz, Dr Claire and Shaw, Dr Richard
Creator Roles:
Green, M. J.Conceptualization, Methodology, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review and editing
Whitley, E.Conceptualization, Methodology, Data curation, Investigation, Formal analysis, Writing – original draft, Writing – review and editing
Niedzwiedz, C. L.Methodology, Writing – review and editing
Shaw, R. J.Methodology, Writing – review and editing
Katikireddi, S. V.Conceptualization, Methodology, Writing – review and editing
Authors: Green, M. J., Whitley, E., Niedzwiedz, C. L., Shaw, R. J., and Katikireddi, S. V.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Journal Name:SSM - Population Health
ISSN (Online):2352-8273
Published Online:12 January 2021
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2021 Published by Elsevier Ltd
First Published:First published in SSM - Population Health 13:100726
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
727651SPHSU Core Renewal: Measuring and Analysing Socioeconomic Inequalities in Health Research ProgrammeAlastair LeylandMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_UU_12017/13IHW - MRC/CSO SPHU
302957Mental Health Data PathfinderDaniel SmithMedical Research Council (MRC)MC_PC_17217HW - Mental Health and Wellbeing
302182A machine learning approach to understanding comorbidity between mental and physical health conditionsClaire NiedzwiedzMedical Research Council (MRC)MR/R024774/1HW - Public Health
Chief Scientist Office (CSO)SPHSU13