Background: The aim of the current study was to investigate the associations between family characteristics and depressive symptoms, and provide new evidence and recommendations for prevention and intervention in the depressive symptoms of older adults.
Methods: The study was a cross-sectional survey conducted door-to-door, utilizing a sample of 1,317 individuals aged 60 years and above in rural China. The five family characteristic variables recorded were: living with spouse, living with descendant, support of family members, self-reported family economic status in the previous year, and family-related negative life events that occurred anytime in the past with a continuous psychological effect during the past 12 months. Gender, age, years of schooling, and self-rated physical health status were taken as potential confounders. Univariable and multivariable logistic regression models were used to examine independent effects on depressive symptoms.
Results: In addition to the potential confounders, only family-related negative life events, support of family members, and self-reported family economic status had significant effects on depressive symptoms in older adults. Experiencing a family-related negative life event was the most significant variable (OR = 11.70, 95% CI: 7.72–17.73), the second was support of family members (OR = 6.93, 95% CI: 3.26–14.70), while family economic status was less important than support of family members (OR = 2.38, 95% CI: 1.08–5.25).
Conclusion: This study, from the perspective of family characteristics on depressive symptoms in older adults, showed a strong correlation between being exposed to harmful family environments and depressive symptoms among the elderly. Efforts to address family risk factors and strengthen family cohesiveness deserve a higher priority, given the importance of these factors, compared with other efforts such as promoting economic development.