Isolation and loneliness are major contributors to depression. It’s true for everyone, but it’s especially relevant for older people, who may be dealing with physical limitations, ill health and new living situations and experiencing feelings of loss, anger, frustration—even despair.
Close social support from family and friends has been shown to reduce the risk for depression, and now a team of researchers from Portland, Oregon in the U.S have learned how different forms of communication affect depression risk.
Dr Alan Teo and his team from the VA Portland Health Care System assessed 11,000 US adults aged 50 and older – some had very active social lives—with friends, children and other family members—while others were more isolated.
At the beginning of the two-year study, some were depressed but most weren’t.
"Meeting friends and family face-to-face is strong preventative medicine for depression. Think of it like taking your vitamins, and make sure you get a regular dose of it," Dr Teo says.
"We found that all forms of socialisation aren't equal. Phone calls and digital communication with friends or family members do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression."
It’s essential knowledge for anyone who has family in aged care, loved ones with dementia and family member in need of home care – that the communication channels should be kept open.
Importantly, people with dementia are twice as likely to be lonely as the rest of the population, while their carers are often significantly more lonely than the rest of the population, according to Alzheimer’s Australia’s Loneliness and Dementia Survey 2016. The survey found that people with dementia report significantly fewer relationships than carers, who in turn have significantly fewer relationship than the general public, due mainly to friendships falling away and the experience of social isolation.
So, social visits to elderly relatives, especially those living with dementia, make a real positive difference to their lives.
Read more on the subject of loneliness for those with dementia here.
Key findings of Dr. Alan Teo’s study:
- Real visits matter.
Individuals who weren’t initially depressed and who had face-to-face contact with anyone at least once or twice a week had only a 7.3 per cent chance of becoming depressed over the next two years. Those who got together with a friend or relative only once or twice a month fared a little worse—8.1 per cent became depressed. But those who saw friends or family only every few months or even less had an 11.5 per cent chance of becoming depressed within two years.
- When you’re younger, friends help the most.
Between the ages of 50 and 69, frequent in-person contact with friends was the most powerful depression protection. After age 70, in-person contact with the children was most protective.
- E-mails, letters and phone calls don’t help much.
While there was some indication that frequent e-mails from friends might be somewhat helpful in reducing depressive symptoms, the results were mixed, so no firm conclusions could be reached. Nor did frequent phone calls help prevent depression.
- Is your loved one already depressed? Pick up the phone!
For subjects who were already depressed at the beginning of the study, frequent phone calls with a friend or relative (two or three times a week) was associated with reduced depressive symptoms.
- Bad visits are worse than no visits at all.
Driving over, emailing or calling just to pick a fight isn’t doing anyone a favour. Whether a phone call, letter, email or in-person visit, if the contact involved conflict or was lacking in social support, it increased depressive symptoms, the study found.
And finally, as reported by Dr. Teo: “If your older loved one lives too far away to make frequent visits feasible, online video communication, via Skype or Facetime, can be a nice way to bridge the gap between the times when you can visit personally.”
Want to learn more?
Find out how a good laugh coupled with moderate exercise can boost the mental health of older people – Laughter is the best medicine for your mental health.
And, to learn more about the loneliness of dementia, click here.
About Oxley Home Care:
Oxley Home Care provides Dementia Care, Private Care, Home Care, Nursing, Veterans Home Care and Allied Health to enable people to live a quality life independently in their own home and stay connected to their local community.
Oxley Home Care is an Approved Provider of Home Care Packages funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing and holds an allocation of Home Care Packages. These packages are designed to provide assistance to the elderly, to remain living independently at home.
To gain access to a Home Care Package, the government requires that you undergo a comprehensive assessment by your local Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT). To arrange the assessment, contact My Aged Care on 1800 200 422 or visit the My Aged Care web site.
For more information, please feel free to call Oxley Home Care on 1300 993 591.