Social Networks and Support in Disease Management: An Examination of Hypertension among Older Adults

Erin York Cornwell, Cornell University
Linda Waite, University of Chicago

About two-thirds of older adults suffer from hypertension, but only about half of them are able to effectively manage the condition. In this paper, we examine the role of social networks and support in hypertension awareness and management, and whether differential access to these social resources explains persistent racial disparities in hypertension. We use data from a population-based study of older adults to identify those with managed, unmanaged, or undiagnosed hypertension. We find that marriage/partnership is positively associated with hypertension awareness and management. Older adults with more practical support are less likely to have undiagnosed hypertension. Those who have larger social networks are less likely to have unmanaged hypertension –- if they discuss health issues with their network members. These factors account for nearly ten percent of blacks’ greater risk of unmanaged hypertension. We conclude with suggestions for further research on how social relationships shape chronic disease diagnosis and management.

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Presented in Session 95: Health Behaviors and Health Disparities