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Gerontology. 2011;57(2):180-9. doi: 10.1159/000314158. Epub 2010 Apr 28.

Disability and depressive symptoms in later life: the stress-buffering role of informal and formal support.

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  • 1Centre for Mental Health Research, The Australian National University, Canberra, A.C.T., Australia.



Despite the increasing utilization of formal services by older adults in many nations, there is a paucity of research that has examined the relationships between disability, formal support and depressive symptoms in later life.


We investigated whether support received for daily activities, either from formal and/or informal sources, weakened the deleterious relationship between disability and depression symptoms in later life and whether these stress-buffering effects were stronger in later years of older adulthood.


Participants were 1,359 community-dwelling older adults drawn from Wave 1 of the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Hierarchical multiple regression was used.


Individuals receiving support from (1) informal sources only and (2) both informal and formal sources had weaker relationships between disability and depressive symptoms, relative to those receiving no support. The interaction between informal and formal support and disability also revealed that for individuals with above average functional limitations, receipt of this support type was associated with fewer depressive symptoms. However, for individuals with no functional limitations, receipt of both informal and formal support was not associated with depressive symptoms. The stress-buffer age variation hypothesis received no support.


Findings suggest that receiving a combination of informal and formal support may be sufficient to offset the harmful association between disability and depressive symptoms in later life. In addition, findings further emphasized the importance of informal support in later life. In contrast, formal support in isolation may not be sufficient to confer a protective effect. Given the expected increase in utilization of formal services among older adults in the coming decades, it is essential that future research investigates the possible factors that underlie this null result.

Copyright © 2010 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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