Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 34, Issue 11, pp 2368–2373 | Cite as

Perceived Adequacy of Tangible Social Support and Associations with Health Outcomes Among Older Primary Care Patients

  • Rachel O’ConorEmail author
  • Julia Yoshino Benavente
  • Marina Arvanitis
  • Laura M. Curtis
  • Kamal Eldeirawi
  • Romana Hasnain-Wynia
  • Alex D. Federman
  • Jeni Hebert-Beirne
  • Michael S. Wolf
Original Research



The availability and adequacy of tangible social support may be critical to older adults managing multiple chronic conditions, yet few studies have evaluated the perceived adequacy of needed tangible support and its relation to health outcomes.


We investigated the association between unmet, tangible social support needs, health status, and urgent healthcare use among community-dwelling older adults.


Cross-sectional analysis.


English-speaking older adults (n = 469) who participated in the Health Literacy and Cognitive Function cohort study.

Main Measures

Perceived adequacy of tangible social support was measured using a brief, validated scale that determined (1) if an individual needed assistance managing his or her health, and (2) if yes, whether this need was met. Health status was measured using physical function, depression, and anxiety PROMIS short-form instruments. Urgent healthcare utilization (emergency department and hospitalization) was self-reported for the past 12 months.

Key Results

Participants’ mean age was 69 years; 73% were women and 31% were African American, and 16% identified unmet support needs. Unmet support needs were associated with worse physical (β − 6.32; 95% CI − 8.31, − 4.34) and mental health (anxiety: β 3.84; 95% CI 1.51, 6.17; depression: β 2.45; 95% CI 0.32, 4.59) and greater urgent healthcare utilization (ED: OR 2.86; 95% CI 1.51, 5.41; hospitalization: OR 3.75; 95% CI 1.88, 7.50).


Perceived unmet support needs were associated with worse health status and greater urgent healthcare use. Primary care practices might consider screening older patients for unmet tangible support needs, although appropriate responses should first be established if unmet needs are identified.


social support aging patient-reported outcomes 


Financial Support

This work was supported by a research grant from the National Institute on Aging (R01AG030611).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Conflict of Interest

Dr. Michael Wolf reports receiving consultancy fees from Abbot, Abbvie, Luto, Merck, United HealthCare, and Vivus, as well as research grants from Abbot, Abbvie, Merck, and United HealthCare. All remaining authors declare that they do not have a conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel O’Conor
    • 1
    Email author
  • Julia Yoshino Benavente
    • 1
  • Marina Arvanitis
    • 1
  • Laura M. Curtis
    • 1
  • Kamal Eldeirawi
    • 2
  • Romana Hasnain-Wynia
    • 3
  • Alex D. Federman
    • 4
  • Jeni Hebert-Beirne
    • 5
  • Michael S. Wolf
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Feinberg School of MedicineNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA
  2. 2.College of NursingUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Office of ResearchDenver Health and Hospital AuthorityDenverUSA
  4. 4.Division of General Internal MedicineIcahn School of Medicine at Mount SinaiNew YorkUSA
  5. 5.Division of Community Health Sciences, School of Public HealthUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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