Social Networks Usually Linked to Better Health for
Older Adults, Studies Find
Special edition of Health Psychology packed
with studies of senior citizens and their relationships
4, 2014 - Having regular positive interactions with family and friends
and being involved in several different social networks can help older
adults be healthier, according to numerous new research reports to be
published by the American Psychological Association this month. However,
negative social interactions can present health risks.
with others are likely to promote but can also sometimes detract from
good health by shaping daily behavior that directly affects physical
health,” said Lynn M. Martire, PhD, of The Pennsylvania State
Martire and Melissa
M. Franks, PhD, of Purdue University, were guest editors for a special
June issue of APA’s
“In some cases, the
behavior may have to do with physical activity and in others, it might
be related to diet or managing a chronic disease, such as diabetes,”
In a national
sample of approximately 1,500 older adults - age 50 and over - negative
social interactions were associated with a greater risk for hypertension
among women and individuals ages 51 to 64.
criticism and disappointment were examples of negative social
interactions. These kinds of unpleasant encounters could be linked to
hypertension in older adults because of their psychological effects,
such as depression and general unhappiness, according to the study.
Negative social interactions have also been linked to harmful coping
behaviors, such as smoking, drinking alcohol and less physical activity,
the study says.
Social networks are
associated with more involvement in leisure activities, which in turn,
can lead to better health in older adults, according to this study.
Leisure activities, defined as an activity not involving pay, could be
as ordinary as home maintenance or cooking.
examined data from 2,965 older Americans, who were interviewed by
telephone in 2006 and again in 2010. In 2010, they were on average 70
years old, 55 percent female, 59 percent married and 84 percent white.
involving physical exercise were the most beneficial. Physical health
was measured by the participants’ body mass index, number of diagnosed
chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and
responses to questions about their overall health.
Integration and Pulmonary Function in the Elderly (PDF, 94KB)”
by Crista N. Crittenden, PhD, Sheldon Cohen, PhD, and Denise
Janicki-Deverts, PhD, Carnegie Mellon University; Sarah D. Pressman,
PhD, Bruce W. Smith, PhD, University of New Mexico; and Teresa E.
Seeman, PhD, University of California, Irvine.
research has found that marriage can be good for people’s pulmonary
health as they age, it’s not the only social connection that plays a
role in older adults’ lung function, this study found.
different social roles, such as employee, parent, club member, church
member and volunteer, was also linked to better lung function.
“What mattered most
was the diversity of roles with which the person identifies,
irrespective of which specific roles are involved,” the study said.
examined data from a MacArthur Research Network study of 1,147 seniors,
average age 74, of whom 55 percent were women, 48 percent were married,
19 percent were non-white and 19 percent were employed. To be included,
participants had to be physically active and alert with no disabilities.
Data about their social activities were collected in face-to-face
interviews during which lung function was measured.
Issue: The Role of
Social Networks in Adult Health, Health Psychology,
Vol. 33, No. 6, June 2014.
Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest
scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the
United States. APA's membership includes nearly 130,000 researchers,
educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions
in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state,
territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance
the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge
to benefit society and improve people's lives.
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