Social Support, Health, and Aging
• Social support is important for both mental health and physical health throughout
the life span, but it may be especially important in late life.
Characteristics of the Social Support Network
Functions of Social Support
• 3 functions of social support have been identified: Aid (instrumental help), Affect
(emotional support), and Affirmation (acknowledgment of one’s values or
agreement with one’s attitudes). Generally, instrumental support includes
tangible aid. For older people, this may be as simple as providing a ride to the
grocery store or mowing the lawn and often takes the form of help with the tasks
of daily living, such as activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental
activities of daily living (IADLs). Emotional support refers to the quality of the
person’s relationships with others, including empathy, caring, companionship,
love, and trust. The intention of social support is often to alleviate the
psychological distress of the person. Finally, affirmation is the knowledge and
understanding that one’s belief’s and attitudes are similar to others, therefore
providing membership and acceptance in a group.
• Informal support network members consist of family, friends, and neighbors.
This group provides instrumental and emotional support, companionship,
acceptance, love, understanding, and respect.
• The quasi-formal support system includes community organizations and service
workers. These are religious organizations, neighborhoods, and volunteer
community interest groups such as Lions clubs and Masons.
• The quasi-formal support system provides unpaid services to older persons, often
as a voluntary link between individuals or families and communities, providing
information, helping with transportation, or doing home repairs. These quasi-
formal groups serve as watchdogs for the older person, noting when mail is not
picked up or a customary shopping trip missed.
1 • Places of worship are an important source of quasi-formal support. Synagogues,
churches, temples, and mosques provide emotional support for their members,
through spiritual connections and a sense of community.
• The formal support system consists of members of professional organizations
who are hired to provide care to the individual. These can be either private or
public organizations. Examples of agencies that provide formal help are adult
day health centres, health clinics, respite facilities, home health care agencies,
skilled nursing homes, social services agencies, assisted-living facilities, and
public health departments.
• Formal support network members give a wide spectrum of care, most of it
instrumental in nature.
Interface of Formal and Informal Support
• It was found that informal caregivers provided the majority of care to their older
relatives, even when formal support was available. Recent studies substantiate
that the use of formal support has minimal impact on the amount of care given by
the informal system. Addition of formal in-home support (e.g., personal care and
bathing) to older adults with chronic illnesses was not found to be associated with
less informal care or self-care. Families continue to provide care for their family
members, even with outside help.
Assessment of Social Support
• Social su