International Psychogeriatrics

Research Article

Five-year trajectories of social networks and social support in older adults with major depression

Corrine I. Voilsa1 c1, Jason C. Allairea2, Maren K. Olsena1, David C. Steffensa3, Rick H. Hoylea4 and Hayden B. Boswortha1

a1 Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina, U.S.A.

a2 Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University, U.S.A.

a3 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina, U.S.A.

a4 Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, U.S.A.


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.

(Received November 20 2006)

(Online publication January 11 2007)

(Revised January 18 2007)

(Accepted January 19 2007)

(Online publication April 16 2007)


c1 Correspondence should be addressed to: Corrine I. Voils, Health Services Research & Development, VA Medical Center (152), 508 Fulton St., Durham, NC 27705. Phone: +1 (919) 286 0411 ext 5196; Fax: +1 (919) 416–5836. Email: