People aged between 91 and 101 have better mental health than many of their younger relatives, it has been found. A new study carried out by the University of Rome and University of California San Diego (UCSD) discovered that very old people experienced a greater sense of wellbeing than those aged between 51 and 75.
Some 29 people aged between 91 and 101 living across nine villages in Cilento in southern Italy were studied for the research. Their good mental states have been put down to a positive outlook, keeping busy and being stubborn, as well as being close to family, having a strong work ethic and faith in religion.
Anna Scelzo, lead author of the study, said: “The group's love of their land is a common theme and gives them a purpose in life. Most of them are still working in their homes and on the land. They think, 'This is my life and I'm not going to give it up'.
“We also found that this group tended to be domineering, stubborn and needed a sense of control, which can be a desirable trait as they are true to their convictions and care less about what others think. This tendency to control the environment suggests notable grit that is balanced by a need to adapt to changing circumstances.”
During the research, scientists assessed both the physical and mental health of the inhabitants. They found out about their life stories and any traumatic events they had been through, if they had migrated or the religious beliefs they held.
While the nonagenarians and centenarians weren’t in such good shape physically as their younger counterparts, their outlook was better. Some talked about losing their spouses, but remaining resilient, while others spoke of being strong in the face of life’s difficulties.
Dr Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry at UCSD, highlighted the fact that although there have been studies on the very old in the past, they never looked at their mental health. Mainly focusing on genetics, these previous research efforts had missed out on the personalities and traits exhibited in 91 to 101-year-olds.
He added that the main themes seen in this latest study were “positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land.” This showed that while physical health may be failing in the most elderly, wellbeing and wisdom increases.
“Studying the strategies of exceptionally long-lived and lived-well individuals, who not just survive but also thrive and flourish, enhances our understanding of health and functional capacities in all age groups,” Dr Jeste summarised.
The inhabitants of the nine villages studied in the research are not entirely atypical of those in the region. In Acciaroli in south-west Italy, one in ten residents live beyond the age of 100. Scientists have previously looked at their lifestyle in order to understand longevity.
As well as the much-publicised healthy Mediterranean diet of fish, fruit and vegetables, and olive oil, they were also found to have active sex lives.