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Open Access Research article

Do social networks affect the use of residential aged care among older Australians?

Lynne C Giles12*, Gary FV Glonek2, Mary A Luszcz34 and Gary R Andrews4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rehabilitation and Aged Care, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, Australia

2 Discipline of Statistics, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide 5005, Australia

3 School of Psychology, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, Australia

4 Centre for Ageing Studies, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, Australia

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BMC Geriatrics 2007, 7:24  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-7-24

Published: 4 October 2007



Older people's social networks with family and friends can affect residential aged care use. It remains unclear if there are differences in the effects of specific (with children, other relatives, friends and confidants) and total social networks upon use of low-level residential care and nursing homes.


Data were drawn from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Six waves of data from 1477 people aged ≥ 70 collected over nine years of follow-up were used. Multinomial logistic regressions of the effects of specific and total social networks on residential care use were carried out. Propensity scores were used in the analyses to adjust for differences in participant's health, demographic and lifestyle characteristics with respect to social networks.


Higher scores for confidant networks were protective against nursing home use (odds ratio [OR] upper versus lower tertile of confidant networks = 0.50; 95%CI 0.33–0.75). Similarly, a significant effect of upper versus lower total network tertile on nursing home use was observed (OR = 0.62; 95%CI 0.43–0.90). Evidence of an effect of children networks on nursing home use was equivocal. Nursing home use was not predicted by other relatives or friends social networks. Use of lower-level residential care was unrelated to social networks of any type. Social networks of any type did not have a significant effect upon low-level residential care use.


Better confidant and total social networks predict nursing home use in a large cohort of older Australians. Policy needs to reflect the importance of these particular relationships in considering where older people want to live in the later years of life.