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Aging and Social Support


Subject Sociology of Health, Aging, and Medicine » Sociology of Aging

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Social support is a powerful predictor of living a healthy and long life. Large, well-controlled prospective studies show that social support has an impact on older adults’ health independently of potentially confounded factors such as socioeconomic status, health risk behaviors, use of health services, and personality. This entry discusses social support and then how it is related to aging. Social support refers to positive exchanges with network members that help people stay healthy or cope with adverse events ( Thoits, 2011 ). Researchers typically distinguish the following types of supportive behavior: instrumental aid, the expression of emotional caring or concern, and the provision of advice and guidance. Epidemiologists introduced the concept of social support in the 1970s to explain why people who are embedded in social networks enjoy better mental and physical health. Characteristic of social support is that it involves behavioral exchanges (giving and receiving) that are intended as helpful and are perceived as such. Social support needs to be distinguished conceptually from the other ways through which people benefit from having close relationships. The first is that networks provide opportunities for companionship and social engagement. Shared leisure activities serve as a source of pleasure and stimulation, whereas the participation in meaningful community activities ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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