Researchers from the Institute of Public Health of the University of Porto (ISPUP) concluded, in a study involving 643 people aged 60 years and over, that those living alone are not necessarily those at higher risk of develop depression.

To this end, the researchers evaluated 643 adults, aged 60 years and over, residing in Porto and participating in the EPIPorto cohort [ISPUP longitudinal study that, since 1999, has followed a sample of residents of the municipality], who answered questions about their status, housing situation, leisure activities, as well as the perception of social support by family and friends.

The study, developed as part of the HARMED project, concluded that those who live alone "are not necessarily the ones at higher risk of developing depression."

“In fact, depression is more frequent in older adults who lack social support and who are not involved in leisure activities, regardless of whether they live alone or with someone else,” stresses the institute.

Of the participants, 27.4% suffered from depression, a prevalence that was more pronounced in women who, when analyzed in isolation, had a 30% prevalence of the disease.

The investigation concluded that "the greatest propensity for depression occurs among older adults who live alone, but who simultaneously accumulate the disadvantages of having low social support and little involvement in leisure activities".

“Living alone should not be seen as the main isolating factor associated with depression,” stresses ISPUP.

Cited in the statement, researcher Ana Henriques, the first author of the study, stresses that social isolation must be “addressed in a multidimensional way”.

“There are other components that help us to have a more complete view of what social isolation is, namely the involvement in leisure activities and the social support received”, he says.

Advocating that social isolation may “give us an incomplete view”, Ana Henriques states that it is necessary to take into account “all social support variables” - such as the practice of activities - and how these can be "crucial" and "help to prevent isolation and depression”.

At the same time, the researchers point out that the study could help health professionals to identify older people at risk for depression earlier.

"Instead of adopting a remedial approach, health professionals will be able to act earlier, identifying older adults who do not have leisure activities or good social networks, thus helping to prevent social isolation and depression in this population", he says the investigator.

In addition to ISPUP, the study had the collaboration of researchers from the Institute of Sociology of the University of Porto, the University Miguel Hernandez de Elche (Spain) and the University of São Paulo (Brazil).

Funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and Portugal 2020, the HARMED project, developed by ISPUP and the Institute of Sociology of the University of Porto, sought to measure the impact of the socioeconomic crisis, violence and social issues on the elderly.