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Social contact, including remote contact (by telephone, email, letter or text), could help reduce social inequalities in depressive symptoms and loneliness among older adults. Data were from the 8th wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (2016/17), stratified by age (n = 1578 aged <65; n = 4026 aged 65+). Inverse probability weighting was used to estimate average effects of weekly in-person and remote social contact on depressive symptoms (score of 3+ on 8-item CES-D scale) and two measures of loneliness (sometimes/often feels lonely vs hardly ever/never; and top quintile of UCLA loneliness scale vs all others). We also estimated controlled direct effects of education, partner status, and wealth on loneliness and depressive symptoms under two scenarios: 1) universal infrequent (social contact; and 2) universal weekly remote social contact. Weekly in-person social contact was associated on average with reduced odds of loneliness, but associations with remote social contact were weak. Lower education raised odds of depressive symptoms and loneliness, but differences were attenuated with infrequent in-person contact. Respondents living alone experienced more depressive symptoms and loneliness than those living with a partner, and less wealth was associated with more depressive symptoms. With universal infrequent in-person contact, these differences narrowed among those aged under 65 but widened among those aged 65+. Universal weekly remote contact had relatively little impact on inequalities. Reduced in-person social contact may increase depressive symptoms and loneliness among older adults, especially for those aged 65+ who live alone. Reliance on remote social contact seems unlikely to compensate for social inequalities. © 2021 The Authors.


Michael J Green, Elise Whitley, Claire L Niedzwiedz, Richard J Shaw, S Vittal Katikireddi. Social contact and inequalities in depressive symptoms and loneliness among older adults: A mediation analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. SSM - population health. 2021 Mar;13:100726

PMID: 33521227

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