The effects of social networks and social support on the relationship between race/ ethnicity and disability in older adults



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Objectives: Researchers have begun to focus on social resources, including social\r\nsupport and social networks, as being important to health. Especially in the case of race\r\nand ethnic differences in disability among older adults, social resources are important to\r\nconsider because they may be able to help explain some of the gap in disability that exists\r\nbetween groups. This study describes the effects of social support and social networks on\r\ndisability in older whites, blacks and Mexican Americans. Methods: In this study, two\r\nsets of longitudinal data were used to conduct the analyses, including the Hispanic\r\nEPESE (1993-2007) which represents older Mexican Americans 65 years and older\r\n(N=3,050), and the Duke EPESE (1986-1992), that consists of older blacks and whites 65\r\nyears and older (N=4,316). Generalized linear mixed models were used to analyze the\r\nchange in disability across time, and discrete-time hazard analysis estimated with logistic\r\nregression was used to analyze the risk of developing disability and recovery between\r\nVII\r\nintervals of data collection. Results: Social support was associated with decreased\r\ndisability among blacks and whites; however, contrary to hypotheses, social support was\r\nassociated with increased disability across time among Mexican Americans (with the\r\ninclusion of depressive symptoms in the models). In addition, social support partially\r\nmediated the association between race and disability. Focusing on social networks, the\r\nresults showed that social network size is associated with decreased disability across time\r\nin all groups and with greater recovery among blacks and whites. A higher proportion of\r\nfriends was associated with less disability across time among Mexican Americans and a\r\ndecreased risk of developing disability among blacks and whites. Conclusions: This\r\nstudy illustrates the complex nature of social support and social networks and how each\r\naffects disability in diverse populations. Depression plays an important role in the\r\nassociation between social support and disability among Mexican Americans, and health\r\nis also important in the association between social support, social networks, and disability\r\nin all three groups. In the future, researchers should consider the sociocultural context of\r\nsocial support and social networks in investigating health disparities in disability.



social support, social networks, disparities in disability, disability