Characteristics of senior centre users – and the impact of a group programme on social support and late-life depression

Hege Bøen


Background: Senior centres are described as arenas for prevention. However, few studies have addressed this subject. The main aims of the present study were to evaluate the impact of a senior centre programme on depression and social support, to gain knowledge about the socio-demographic, psychosocial and health characteristics of users of the senior centres in relation to non-users, and to investigate the associations between psychological distress and social support and somatic and socio-demographic factors.

Methods: Data were obtained from the Norwegian Population Register for two municipal districts in Oslo. A random sample was drawn limited to 4,000 of the total number of residents over 65 years living at home. Self-report questionnaires were sent by post. The response rate was 64% and n=2,387. Psychological distress was assessed using Hopkins Symptom Checklist (HSCL-10) and social support with Oslo-3 Social Support Scale. Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) was an outcome measure in addition to scales of health and life satisfaction. In total 415 persons fulfilled the inclusion criteria of the RCT and 92 completed the study.

Findings: High age and specific health problems were associated with increased use of the senior centre. Single women used the senior centres more than married women whereas single men used the senior centres less than married men. Lack of social support and somatic health problems increased psychological distress. Physical impairments and hearing in particular was associated with low levels of social support which again was associated with psychological distress. There were no significant effects on depression of the group programme. However, based on data from one year follow-up, the programme may have a delayed effect due to a general age-dependent increase in depression. This means that the intervention does not make any significant difference to persons with an already manifest depression, but likely prevents worsening for those with milder symptoms. Social support and quality of life were moderately improved.

Conclusion: The findings document a public health problem since the prevalence of physical impairments is high and loneliness is quite common and might lead to increased psychological distress. A further evaluation of these programmes is necessary to capture the effectiveness of the specific parts of the programme’s content.

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