Relocating to an assisted living residence can disrupt social networks at a vulnerable time of health decline. Identifying factors associated with social engagement, and how it relates to well-being and physical health, may help promote residents’ quality of life. Paper 1 identified how perceptions of aging (e.g., positive vs. negative age stereotypes as describing oneself vs. other residents) related to social engagement in assisted and independent living residences. Paper 2 examined links between residents’ social support and health. Eighty-one residents completed structured interviews and were asked to wear actigraphs (i.e., sleep monitors) and complete daily diaries, measuring sleep and pain, for four days. Pilot follow-up interview data facilitated examination of prospective associations between social engagement and later health.
In Paper 1, both self-directed and resident-directed age stereotype endorsement were independently related to measures of perceived support availability and social motivation, but not social integration. The positive and negative stereotype components were also associated with different social outcomes. Residents who thought they more closely matched negative stereotypes reported greater social isolation, less available companionship and emotional support, and greater likelihood of avoiding closeness with residents; stronger endorsement of positive self-directed stereotypes was related to greater perceived availability of companionship and emotional support. Moreover, only stronger positive, not negative, resident-directed stereotype endorsement was related to less perceived social isolation, greater desire to make new friends, and lower likelihood of avoiding closeness with residents.
In Paper 2, greater perceived support availability was robustly related to more positive emotional well-being, but associations between social support and physical health-related outcomes were weaker. Although having more outside friends was related to more efficient and more total sleep at night, associations were small. Other associations were not significant after accounting for potential confounds or did not fit within a larger pattern.
This dissertation highlights varying roles of positive vs. negative stereotypes and stereotypes directed toward oneself vs. other older adults. Perceptions of aging may be practical targets for interventions promoting social engagement in residential care facilities. Social support was also linked to emotional well-being in these communities, although links to physical health were less consistent than expected.