Introduction Compared with other racial/ethnic groups, African Americans have higher rates of chronic conditions and suffer a disproportionate burden of disability. We aimed to examine the effects of social support on physical functioning among older African Americans. Methods We analyzed a sample of 448 urban, community-dwelling, older African Americans (aged 48–98 years) from the Baltimore Study of Black Aging. Baseline physical functioning was collected between 2006 and 2008 (wave 1), and change in physical functioning was collected between 2009 and 2011 (wave 2), physical functioning was assessed by self-reported limitations in 7 activities of daily living—eating, dressing, grooming, walking, bathing, using the toilet, and transferring in and out of bed—using a binary variable to indicate whether the individual had difficulty performing each specific activity. Social support was measured by how frequently participants provided/received goods and services, financial assistance, transportation, companionship, advice, or encouragement (never , rarely , sometimes , frequently ). Negative binomial regression models were used to test the effects of social support given, received, and a ratio (support received/support given) on physical functioning for those who improved and those who declined in physical functioning. Results Participants reported physical functioning at wave 1 (1.24, standard deviation [SD] = 1.98) and at wave 2 (0.34, SD = 0.83). Average social support given was 7.49 (SD = 3.26), and average social support received was 7.81 (SD = 3.17). Those who improved in physical function gave less social support and had lower social support ratios; social support received had no effect. Those who remained stable or declined in physical function gave more social support; neither social support received nor social ratio had an effect. Conclusion Social support given and social support received as well as the ratio should be considered when seeking to understand how physical functioning changes over time among older African Americans.
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