Background Social relationships are associated with physical function. However, little scholarly attention has been focused on the effect of changing social factors on physical function. Purpose This study was designed to examine the effects on physical function of changes in social relationships in adults aged 65 years and older. Methods This study is part of a longitudinal, prospective cohort study that was conducted on community-dwelling older adults in a suburban area of central Japan. Baseline self-report data were collected in 2011, and a follow-up survey was conducted in 2017. Social relationships were assessed using the Index of Social Interaction, and physical function was evaluated using a subscale of the Kihon Checklist. Chi-square tests, Mann-Whitney U tests, and multiple logistic regression analysis were used to analyze data from 442 older adults who were functionally independent at baseline. Results After controlling for covariates in 2011, negative changes in social relationships (odds ratio [OR] = 3.20, 95% CI [1.18, 8.69]) were found to be associated with physical function decline. Moreover, 1-point increases in the different social-relationship values between baseline and follow-up were associated with protective effects against functional decline (OR = 0.71, 95% CI [0.63, 0.80]). Furthermore, median trends between baseline and follow-up revealed associations between decreasing (OR = 4.18, 95% CI [1.53, 11.39]) and continuously low (OR = 2.98, 95% CI [1.42, 6.28]) social relationships and physical function decline. Conclusions/Implications for Practice The findings support a strong association between negative changes in social relationships and physical function decline and highlight the importance of promoting social relationships to delay physical function decline in older adults.
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