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Human contact for the elderly extremely important, study finds

A recent study has shown that elderly people will benefit greatly from face-to-face contact with family and friends. Social interaction can greatly reduce the onset or negative effects of depression in older people, researchers found.

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Human contact for the elderly extremely important, study finds

A recent study has shown that elderly people will benefit greatly from face-to-face contact with family and friends. Social interaction can greatly reduce the onset or negative effects of depression in older people, researchers found.

A recent study has shown that elderly people will benefit greatly from face-to-face contact with family and friends. Social interaction can greatly reduce the onset or negative effects of depression in older people, researchers found.

The new study that recently appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society discovered that people over 50 who saw their family and friends at least three times a week were less likely to develop depression – at a rate of almost 50 per cent less that those with limited contact. The study went further to determine that even electronic forms of communication, such as email and telephone, are not enough to prevent feelings of gloom and despair from setting in for elderly individuals.

“Research has long supported the idea that strong social bonds strengthen people's mental health. But we found all forms of socialisation aren't equal,” the study’s leading author told the Daily Mail.

Dr Kevin Teo said he believes different forms of communication is key.

“Phone calls and digital communication do not have the same power as face-to-face social interactions in helping to stave off depression,” he said.

Conducted jointly by researchers at the University of Michigan and Portland State University in the United States, the study looked at the lives of over 11,000 people for more than two years. Over its course, they found people who saw family and friends just once every few months had an 11.5% chance of later developing symptoms of depression, compared with a risk of 6.5% for those who met up at least three times a week.

Research also showed the type of face-to-face contact changed as people got older. For those in their 50s and 60s, connections with friends was beneficial. But as people moved into their 70s and older, interaction with family members, especially children, was found to help lower instances of depression.

Researchers were careful to mention that contentious relationships with family or friends were not deemed beneficial. They also point out that just because elevated levels of human contact are helpful, a lack of contact does not always lead directly to depression. Family history and other environmental factors play a role as well.

One’s level of independence and mobility both contribute to a healthy lifestyle. When human help is not available, technological benefits such as mobility scooters, transportation, or home-based stairlifts can help ease tension and anxiety whilst alone.

Image Credit: Lars Plougmann (flickr.com)

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