Background: Research with nondepressed adults suggests that social networks and social support are stable over the life course until very late age. This may not hold true for older adults with depression. We examined baseline status and trajectories of social networks and social support at the group and individual levels over five years.
Methods: The sample consisted of 339 initially depressed adults aged 59 or older (M = 69 years) enrolled in a naturalistic study of depression. Measures of social ties, including social network size, frequency of interaction, instrumental support, and subjective support, were administered at baseline and yearly for five years.
Results: Latent growth curve models were estimated for each aspect of social ties. On average, social network size and frequency of interaction were low at baseline and remained stable over time, whereas subjective and instrumental support were high at baseline yet increased over time. There was significant variation in the direction and rate of change over time, which was not predicted by demographic or clinical factors.
Conclusions: Because increasing social networks may be ineffective and may not be possible for a portion of people who already receive maximal support, interventions to increase social support may only work for a portion of older depressed adults.