Social Involvement and Older Adults

March 21, 2013

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

The authors of a study on death ideation among people older than 64 years of age recommended that strategies based on social and community involvement should only be used as part of more comprehensive efforts “rather than an alternative to psychosocial interventions targeting depressed elders.” Death ideation was measured using the question: “In the last month, have you felt that you would rather be dead?” Bivariate data analyses found that “individuals who participated in at least one community action (beyond simple membership in a group, but in actions such as exercising voluntary activities, providing regular services to people, attending a class, having a associative or labor-union activity, etc.) appeared to be less at risk of having suicidal thoughts.”

However, multivariate analyses revealed that the only risk factors significantly associated with death ideation were (1) depressive symptoms, (2) being older (especially being over 84 years of age), (3) being retired for fewer than five years, (4) being widowed, and (5) having a long-term illness. That is, after these five risk factors were included in the analysis, the protective relationship between social and community involvement and death ideation disappeared. This led to the authors’ conclusion that although social and community involvement may have benefits in protecting people, it is essential to first address depression, the only one of the five risk factors identified in the multivariate analysis that clinicians can actually change.

An unexpected finding of the bivariate analysis was that “receiving material support (assistant for administrative procedures, household chores, or help with daily activities-washing, dressing, feeding) was positively associated with the expression of death ideations.” The authors speculated that this association may be based on feelings of dependency that result from receiving material support of this kind. The sample on which this research was based included 11,425 Europeans over the age of 64 from 15 countries.

Saïas, T., Beck, F., Bodard, J., Guignard, R., & du Roscoät, E. (2012). Social participation, social environment and death ideations in later life. PLoS ONE 7(10), e46723-e46723.