Journal Article

Social Engagement and Disability in a Community Population of Older Adults

Carlos F. Mendes de Leon, Thomas A. Glass and Lisa F. Berkman

in American Journal of Epidemiology

Published on behalf of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Volume 157, issue 7, pages 633-642
Published in print April 2003 | ISSN: 0002-9262
Published online April 2003 | e-ISSN: 1476-6256 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwg028
Social Engagement and Disability in a Community Population of Older Adults

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This paper examines the effect of social engagement on disability among community-dwelling older adults in 1982–1991. Data were collected from the New Haven, Connecticut, site of the Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly. Baseline social engagement was measured by using 11 items related to social and productive activity. Disability data consisted of a six-item measure of activities of daily living, a three-item measure of gross mobility, and a four-item measure of basic physical functions. Nine waves of yearly disability data were analyzed by using generalized estimating equations models. After adjustment for age, gender, race, and physical activity, significant cross-sectional associations (p’s < 0.001) were found between social engagement and all three measures of disability, with more socially engaged older adults reporting less disability. Social engagement also showed small, but negative interaction effects with follow-up-time outcomes (p’s < 0.01), indicating that the protective effect of social engagement decreased slightly during follow-up. Results suggest a strong, but not necessarily causal association of social engagement with disability. Promotion of social engagement may still be important for the prevention of disability.

Keywords: aging; disabled persons; longitudinal studies; social behavior; social support; Abbreviations: ADL, activities of daily living; EPESE, Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly.

Journal Article.  7066 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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