Depressive symptoms in older African-American and white adults with functional difficulties: The role of control strategies

Laura N. Gitlin, Walter W. Hauck, Marie P. Dennis, Richard Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: To examine whether control-oriented strategies buffer effects of functional difficulties on depressive symptoms over time in older African-American and white adults with disability. DESIGN: Community-based, prospective study. SETTING: Baseline and 12-month data from a randomized trial. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred twenty-nine African-American and 151 white older adults with 12-month data from 319 participants in the trial. MEASUREMENTS: Data were obtained for functional difficulties, the extent that respondents reported using control (cognitive and behavioral) strategies to enhance and maintain independence, and baseline and 12-month depressive symptoms (Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale; CES-D). RESULTS: African Americans reported greater baseline functional difficulty (P=.009), fewer depressive symptoms (P=.002) and higher control strategy use (P=.001) than whites. Functional difficulty was associated with depressive symptoms for both groups at baseline and 12 months. Living alone for whites and low spirituality for African Americans predicted higher 12-month depressive symptom scores. African Americans with baseline functional difficulty and high strategy use had lower 12-month depression than those with similar difficulty levels but low strategy use (P=.04 for interaction), representing a 28.5-point CES-D score differential. Control strategies did not buffer the function-depression relationship over time for whites. CONCLUSION: Control-oriented strategies moderated the experience of depressive symptomatology over time for African Americans with disability but not for whites. This may explain the paradox of greater functional disparities but less reported emotional distress in African Americans than whites. Results suggest that the use and benefits of adaptive resources to attain functional goals and determinants of depression differ by race. Depression prevention programs should be modified to be suitable for different cultural groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1023-1030
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Aging in place
  • Disability
  • Late-life mental disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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