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Objective: The nature of interpersonal relationships, whether supportive or critical, may affect the association between health status and mental health outcomes. We examined the potential moderating effects of social support, as a buffer, and family criticism, as an exacerbating factor, on the association between illness burden, functional impairment and depressive symptoms.

Methods: Our sample of 735 older adults, 65 years and older, was recruited from internal and family medicine primary care offices. Trained interviewers administered the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, Duke Social Support Inventory, and Family Emotional Involvement and Criticism Scale. Physician-rated assessments of health, including the Karnofsky Performance Status Scale and Cumulative Illness Rating Scale, were also completed.

Results: Linear multivariable hierarchical regression results indicate that social interaction was a significant buffer, weakening the association between illness burden and depressive symptoms, whereas perceived social support buffered the relationship between functional impairment and depressive symptoms. Family criticism and instrumental social support were not significant moderators.

Conclusions: Type of medical dysfunction, whether illness or impairment, may require different therapeutic and supportive approaches. Enhancement of perceived social support, for those who are impaired, and encouragement of social interactions, for those who are ill, may be important intervention targets for treatment of depressive symptoms in older adult primary care patients.

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This is the peer-reviewed version of the following article: Joshua Hatfield, Jameson Hirsch, and Jeffrey Lyness, "Functional Impairment, Illness Burden, and Depressive Symptoms in Older Adults: Does Type of Social Relationship Matter?" International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 28.2 (2013): 190-198, which has been published in final form at International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving. The author manuscript is from PMC.