How does difficulty communicating affect the social relationships of older adults? An exploration using data from a national survey

Andrew D. Palmer, Jason T. Newsom, Karen S. Rook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Healthy social relationships are important for maintaining mental and physical health in later life. Less social support, smaller social networks, and more negative social interactions have been linked to depression, poorer immune functioning, lower self-rated health, increased incidence of disease, and higher mortality. Overwhelming evidence suggests that communication disorders adversely affect social relationships. Much less is known about whether some or all aspects of social relationships are negatively affected by a communication disorder. The relative impact of a communication disorder on social relationships, as compared to other kinds of disability, is also poorly understood. Data were analyzed from a representative national sample of community-dwelling adults aged 65 and older living in the continental United States (n = 742). Results from multiple regressions indicated that difficulty communicating was significantly associated with several parameters of social relationships even after controlling for age, gender, partnership status, health, functional limitations, and visual impairment. Communication difficulty was a significant predictor of smaller social network size, fewer positive social exchanges, less frequent participation in social activities, and higher levels of loneliness, but was not a significant predictor of negative social exchanges. These findings suggest that communication disorders may place older adults at increased risk for mental and physical health problems because of social isolation, reduced social participation, and higher rates of loneliness. In addition, it appears that communication disorders may have a greater impact on positive, rather than negative, aspects of social relationships. Learning outcomes: As a result of this activity, the following learning outcomes will be realized: Readers will be able to (1) describe changes in the social relationships of older adults that occur as part of normal aging, (2) identify the aspects of social relationships that were significantly impacted by a communication difficulty, and (3) discuss possible reasons for these findings including potential clinical implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-146
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Communication Disorders
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • Activities of daily living
  • Communication
  • Communication disorders
  • Disability
  • Hearing loss
  • Participation
  • Social support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Speech and Hearing
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • LPN and LVN
  • Linguistics and Language


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