The Role of Social Isolation and the Development of Depression: A Comparison of the Widowed and Married Oldest Old in Germany

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18 (13):6986 (2021)
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Widowhood is common in old age, can be accompanied by serious health consequences and is often linked to substantial changes in social network. Little is known about the impact of social isolation on the development of depressive symptoms over time taking widowhood into account. We provide results from the follow-up 5 to follow-up 9 from the longitudinal study AgeCoDe and its follow-up study AgeQualiDe. Depression was measured with GDS-15 and social isolation was assessed using the Lubben Social Network Scale (LSNS-6). The group was aligned of married and widowed people in old age and education through entropy balancing. Linear mixed models were used to examine the frequency of occurrence of depressive symptoms for widowed and married elderly people depending on the risk of social isolation. Our study shows that widowhood alone does not lead to an increased occurrence of depressive symptoms. However, "widowed oldest old", who are also at risk of social isolation, have significantly more depressive symptoms than those without risk. In the group of "married oldest old", women have significantly more depressive symptoms than men, but isolated and non-isolated do not differ. Especially for people who have lost a spouse, the social network changes significantly and increases the risk for social isolation. This represents a risk factor for the occurrence of depressive symptoms.



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