Ability to Take Care of Ones Self and Social Support Networks Related to Senior Health

In a recent study at the University of North Texas, scientists have found that preforming activities of daily living, as well as having a positive social support network, is related to the health of seniors and the elderly later in their life.

Interestingly, this study found that while high levels of activities of daily living were very important to maintaining health, having a strong social support network often had a slight negative impact on the seniors health.

For the purpose of this study, activities of daily living, or ADL for short, refers to things that a person does during the day to help take care of their body, such as bathing, eating, dressing, walking, and many other common tasks.

The study took a set of seniors who were first examined in 1992 and tracked their health over the course of ten years. It was found that the ability of seniors to preform activities of daily living, as well as having a strong social support network, was related to their health 10 years later. As a result, those who had stronger ADL functionality, were more likely to be in better medical condition 10 years down the road.

Further, this study looked at the results in several ways, looking at the effects of ADL and social support separately, finding both factors were independently important to senior health later in their life. For example, even in those with very low daily levels of activity, more attention from a spouse or loved one was related to a decreased rate of health deterioration.

However, surprisingly, having a strong social network was not always a good thing. For instance, the study found that in those with a better social network were actually slightly more likely to have worse health later in life. In fact, the study found that the regression of illness was highest when both family and friend support was lower.

In general, it was found that those with a stronger support network in 1992 actually reported slightly worse health in 2002 than those with a poor support network. In those with low ADL, spousal support was found to help improve health, though.

Research along this line is not exactly new and a number of studies has found that social interaction and remaining active is important to seniors. However, this study is unique, as it seems to indicate that in those who rely heavily on a support network, there is a slightly increased risk of poor health later in life.

There are several reasons that this might occur, but some suggest that it is because high levels of support subconsciously lead an individual to be less conscious of their own health, as they felt that it was being taken care of by others. This ties into several other studies that have found that social support typically benefits those who need it most, while often not affecting those who do not need it or are not receptive to it.

Source: Journal of Psychology; Jan2010, Vol. 144 Issue 1, p1-14, 14p

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