First Advisor

Jason T. Newsom

Date of Publication

Spring 5-18-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies and Planning


Urban Studies and Planning




Older people with disabilities -- Communication -- Psychological aspects, Older people with disabilities -- Social networks, Self-efficacy in old age, Loneliness in old age, Depression in old age



Physical Description

1 online resource (ix, 291 pages)


Communication forms the foundation of social interaction. For older adults, however, there is known to be an increased risk of developing conditions that interfere with the ability to communicate. These conditions may occur for a variety of reasons, including age-related changes in physical or sensory functioning, injury, and disease. It is estimated that 55% of all Medicare beneficiaries have a communication impairment of some kind. Social contact is known to be vital for older adults' mental and physical health but, because communication impairments often co-occur with other types of disability, it is difficult to generalize about the relative impact of a communication impairment on the social relationships of older adults. Specific aims of the study were to examine whether the severity of a communication impairment is associated with social measures, whether there is an interaction between communication impairments and physical disability, and to examine the role of relationship-control strategies in maintaining access to a larger or more supportive social network. A mixed-methods study design was employed. Community-dwelling older adults were surveyed about the size and diversity of their social networks, frequency of social interactions, and physical and mental health (n = 240) and qualitative data were collected from a smaller subsample. Findings demonstrated that communication impairment was a significant independent predictor for key characteristics of social relationships, including the composition of the social network, certain types of social support, the frequency of social participation, and social self-efficacy. Communication impairment was a significant predictor for higher levels of loneliness and depression. In addition two distinct pathways between communication impairment and psychological well-being were identified, with social self-efficacy and reassurance of worth as mediators. Additional insights were provided by the qualitative results. These findings may guide future clinical practice and research by providing a better understanding of the role of communication in health, disability, and the risk of social isolation.


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Persistent Identifier

Included in

Communication Commons