Objectives: The size and type of older adults' social networks is associated with health, mental and social outcomes. Investigators within many disciplines are now measuring social networks, but it is not always clear what they are assessing, or which measures may best meet their objectives. To undertake a systematic review to identify (i) social network measures used for older adults, (ii) variety of social network dimensions and (iii) how measures have developed over time.
Materials and Methods: The MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycInfo and Cochrane Library databases were systematically searched to identify social network instruments, followed by categorization of the domains into quantitative, qualitative and alter domains.
Results: A total of 229 studies and 21 social network measures were included, with 11 quantitative dimensions (e. g., size, frequency), 5 qualitative dimensions (e.g., support satisfaction, emotional bond) and 7 alter members (e. g., family, neighbours) of social networks identified. Measures commonly clustered on quantifiable network size (n = 19), availability of supportive networks (n = 14) and presence of family ties (n = 21). The period between 1985 and 1995 produced the greatest number of newly developed social network measures (n = 10) with a stronger focus on qualitative features.
Discussion and Implications: This review provides researchers with an organized summary of measures and dimensions for consideration when appraising social connections in older adults. This can enable better study design through providing information that makes explicit inevitable trade-offs between survey length, comprehensiveness of dimension coverage, and utilization of the measure for researchers. PROSPERO Registration number: CRD42016043089
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- Social capital
- Social structure