European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 3–12 | Cite as

Maintaining autonomy despite multimorbidity: self-efficacy and the two faces of social support

  • Lisa M. WarnerEmail author
  • Jochen P. Ziegelmann
  • Benjamin Schüz
  • Susanne Wurm
  • Clemens Tesch-Römer
  • Ralf Schwarzer
Original Investigation


Multimorbidity—the co-occurrence of multiple illnesses—is a frequent condition in older adults and poses serious threats to autonomy. In order to identify resources for autonomy despite multimorbidity, our longitudinal study tested main and interaction effects of personal and social resources (self-efficacy and social support) on maintaining autonomy. Three hundred and nine individuals (aged 65–85 years) with multiple illnesses completed measures of self-efficacy beliefs, received instrumental social support and perceptions of autonomy. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling. Cross-sectionally, individuals with lower perceptions of autonomy received more support from their networks. Longitudinally, the relation of received support with autonomy was moderated by self-efficacy: Simple slopes analyses showed that social support compensated for lower levels of self-efficacy, whereas in individuals with higher self-efficacy the resources interfered. Receiving social support bolstered autonomy in lower self-efficacious individuals, but in highly self-efficacious individuals support threatened autonomy. This has implications for both theory and practice, as it suggests differential effects of social resources depending on personal resources.


Autonomy Self-efficacy Received instrumental social support Multimorbidity Old age 



The German Ageing Survey was funded under Grant 301-1720-2/2 by the German Federal Ministry for Family, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth. The present study, the first and the third author are funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Grant No. 01ET0702); the second author is funded by Grant No. 01ET0801 by the same funding body. The content is the sole responsibility of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa M. Warner
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jochen P. Ziegelmann
    • 1
    • 2
  • Benjamin Schüz
    • 2
  • Susanne Wurm
    • 2
  • Clemens Tesch-Römer
    • 2
  • Ralf Schwarzer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Health PsychologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.German Centre of GerontologyBerlinGermany

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