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Purpose of the study: This study was designed to identify social network types among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) older adults and examine the relationship between social network type and mental health.

Design and methods: We analyzed the 2014 survey data of LGBT adults aged 50 and older (N = 2,450) from Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, and Sexuality/Gender Study. Latent profile analyses were conducted to identify clusters of social network ties based on 11 indicators. Multiple regression analysis was performed to examine the association between social network types and mental health.

Results: We found five social network types. Ordered from greatest to least access to family, friend, and other non-family network ties, they were diverse, diverse/no children, immediate family-focused, friend-centered/restricted, and fully restricted. The friend-centered/restricted (33%) and diverse/no children network types (31%) were the most prevalent. Among individuals with the friend-centered/restricted type, access to social networks was limited to friends, and across both types children were not present. The least prevalent type was the fully restricted network type (6%). Social network type was significantly associated with mental health, after controlling for background characteristics and total social network size; those with the fully restricted type showed the poorest mental health.

Implications: Unique social network types (diverse/no children and friend-centered/restricted) emerge among LGBT older adults. Moreover, individuals with fully restricted social networks are at particular risk due to heightened health needs and limited social resources. This study highlights the importance of understanding heterogeneous social relations and developing tailored interventions to promote social connectedness and mental health in LGBT older adults.

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