Objectives: The changing family and social patterns in modern society are likely to influence the availability of informal support for older people. The aims of this study were to determine the support network distribution of a community dwelling elderly population in Dublin, and of those with mental disorders (dementia, depression and anxiety).
Methods: Interviews with 1,001 community dwelling older people using GMS-AGECAT. In addition, a support network assessment instrument was administered, which identifies five different support network types. The local integrated and wider community focused networks are characterised by extensive community involvement, family dependent networks by close family support, and the local self contained and private restricted networks by low levels of family and community involvement.
Results: Of the elderly population, 83% had support networks characterised by close community and/or family involvement. Subjects with cognitive impairment had lower levels of informal support from the community, as indicated by a lower proportion of local integrated (44% v 63%) and a higher proportion of private restricted (6% v 12%) networks. Late life depression was also associated with decreased levels of community integration.
Conclusions: The elderly in Dublin appear to have high levels of informal support. The extensive support may be a factor in the lower rates of depression found in Dublin than in London and New York. While the overall level of informal support available to older people with mental disorders in the community remains high, a proportion have low levels of family and community involvement and consequently their mental health problems may go unrecognised.