Monday, November 16, 2009

Social Support for Seniors

“No matter what age they are, all human beings strive to be close to other human beings” (B). For seniors, the closeness and communications they share within a social support network results in many benefits. “The literature demonstrates a consistent association between well-being and social networks in old age” (C).

Family communication plays a notable role in the health of seniors. “Intergenerational family relations seem to be of special relevance in their contribution to health and well-being of older family members. Key features of intergenerational relationships include association, help, and support” (C). The helping and caregiving behaviors towards parents by adult children have been shown to be a result of life-span attachment theory according to Cicirelli (B). The increased attachment of adult children to their elderly parents as they age enhances the detection of the parent’s needs for help and “increases the likelihood that help will be given” (B).

Although elderly parents oftentimes receive help by their adult children, help is likely mutual between parent and child. While parents have given “more services and money to their children throughout their life…children give more emotional support, household help, and care during illness” (B). Of the help that elderly parents provide, Nussbaum, (2000) notes that “housekeeping, babysitting, food preparation, and help with finances” are the most common (B). However, this assistance wanes around the time when the parent reaches 75 years in age when the children begin to give more assistance than they receive in return (B).

Perhaps the emotional support, assistance and care during illness, by children of elderly parents, helps explain what the studies have indicated - that childless elderly people are less satisfied with family life (B). “Childless widows had lower overall well-being and were more lonely and dissatisfied with their lives than were widows with grown children” (B). Personally I have noticed that widows who are childless face additional hardships when their independence is affected. When a good elderly friend of mine became ill and could no longer tend to personal errands, the fact that she was childless compounded her troubles by forcing her to pay for things her children might have provided (in home assistance, deliveries of food and or rides to appointments).

Nussbaum (2000) mentions that “one of the most important aspects of the affective nature of the parent-adult child relationship is that closeness in this long-standing relationship provides a sense of continuity as the parent and child manage transitions in their lives” (B). This closeness offers emotional support for both parent and child as “they help each other through” stressful events and other adjustments (B). Widowhood is one life adjustment when widows and widowers have found their families to be most helpful. As women’s friendships are more “companionate, rather than comforting,” “widows find their friends helpful” but “not strong contributors to support systems” (B). Relatives of widows and widowers “give socioemotional assurance, financial aid and provide a source of identity” and more often accept their “frailties and vulnerabilities” (B), further proving that family closeness provides a level of support that is far superior to other relationships in seniors’ lives.

The health of seniors is deeply affected by communicative relationships as they “seem to influence how quickly they get well” once they become ill (B). For seniors without a strong social support system, “the difficult changes that many…face—such as the death of a spouse or medical problems—can lead to depression” (A). Fortunately, findings indicate that 34% of widows and widowers receive help from family or their support network (B). However, for seniors who live alone a strong support network may not be as readily available to them. A 2004 study indicated that, “living alone was…related to decreased levels of both perceived social support and feeling lonely after adjustment for potential confounders” (D). Yeh and Lo (2004) also note that a “lack of social support is common among the elderly community who live alone, which could well be a main reason for this group to feel lonely.” The fact that, “loneliness is linked to physical and mental health problems, [makes] increasing social support and facilitating friendships” vital for seniors (D).

Clearly, the benefits seniors obtain from close relationships with family and friends cannot be diminished. Family communication encourages much needed assistance and support for seniors during difficult times or when faced with health issues. However, prior to age 75 seniors offer a great deal of the assistance to their children. For seniors who live alone they might find it more difficult to build or maintain a strong social support network, which may help to explain why some childless seniors find less satisfaction with life than do seniors with adult children.


(A) Depression in Older Adults and the Elderly - Recognizing the Signs and Getting Help. (2009). Retrieved from:

(B) Nussbaum, J. F., Pecchioni, L. L., Robinson, J. D., Thompson, T. L. (2000) Aging and the Family: Relational Lifestyle Changes. In Communication and Aging (2nd ed.). (pp.177,192-195,232)Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

(C) Tesch-Romer, C., Motel-Klingebiel A., von Kondratowitz H. J. (2002). Importance of family for quality of life of the elderly in a social and cultural comparison. NCBI PubMed. Retrieved from:

(D) Yeh, Shu-Chuan Jennifer, Lo, Sing Kai. (2004). Social Behavior and Personality. Retrieved from:
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