Seeing Friends and Relatives Helps Prevent Depression for Older People
According to a new study, face-to-face contact with friends and family plays a crucial role in helping older people avoid depression. Researchers say that contact by phone and email are not enough to replace time spent together in person.
A US research team analysed data from 11,065 people aged 50 or over, who had taken part in a study into health and retirement between 2004 and 2010. They looked at how often each person was contacted by telephone, email, social media or in person, and assessed how this was linked to their risk of depression two years later.
The results showed that those who had the most face-to-face contact with friends and relatives were least likely to suffer from depression. However, the same reduced risk was not seen in older people who regularly spoke to friends and relatives on the phone or by email.
The researchers found an 11.5% risk of developing depression among those who met with friends and family once every few months or less, an 8.1% risk for those who met with them once or twice a month, and a 7.3% risk for those who saw them once or twice each week.
The study highlighted how common a problem loneliness is for many older people, and what an impact it can have on their mental health. It also showed how those feelings of loneliness and depression can easily be avoided if people regularly set aside time to spend with their older relatives in person.
“Research has long supported the idea that strong social bonds strengthen people’s mental health,” says lead author Dr Alan Teo of the Oregon Health and Science University. “But we found all forms of socialisation aren’t equal. Phone calls and digital communication do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression.”