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Role of Social Support in Old Age

            Critically examine theory and research concerning the role of social support in relation to the stressful life circumstances of old age.
             As we move through the 21st century one of the most dramatic demographic changes is the increasing population of elderly people (Stansfeld, 1998). Loneliness, lack of social support and isolation are identified as major risk factors that combined increase the risk of stressful life events in old age. For this reason a variety of new methods of measuring stress have been developed and refined. Much research indicates that a wide availability of social resources help people cope with stressful life events (Stansfeld, 1998).
             Social support refers to the perceived comfort, caring, esteem, or help a person receives from significant others or community organizations. It is of importance for people undertaking successful social support to believe they are loved and cared for, and part of a social network (Martin, Grunendahl and Martin, 2001). However, both informal and formal systems encounter the difficult task of providing efficient emotional assistance. To foster a more effective system in the face of the increasing demand for eldercare, social workers need to better understand the extent social support interventions assist particular individuals in their health. Furthermore, as the baby boom generation ages, social service systems are expected to be strained further for the elderly (Choi & Wodarski, 1996).
             Society has become more fragmented with the higher rates of morbidity, mortality, divorce and children being less willing to look after their elderly parents. Greater longevity means that more people are likely to develop mental illness in old age. There is also a greater likelihood of people developing mental illnesses earlier in life and surviving into old age. This combined with the inevitability of physical decline affecting older peoples health by a loss of independence and esteem.

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