Researchers at the University of Rome La Sapienza and University of California San Diego School of Medicine studied a group of people over the age of 90 living in Italian villages. Their findings reveal that old adults have certain psychological traits in common.
"There have been a number of studies on very old adults, but they have mostly focused on genetics rather than their mental health or personalities," Doctor Dilip V. Jeste, the author of the study, said, according to a UC San Diego Monday press release.
"The main themes that emerged from our study, and appear to be unique features associated with better mental health of this rural population were positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land," Jeste explained.
The researchers studied 29 participants from nine villages in southern Italy and used various quantitative rating scales to evaluate mental and physical health. The researchers also conducted qualitative interviews with the participants to get more insight regarding their life events and beliefs. The participants' children and young family members were also asked the same questions and described their older relatives' personality traits.
"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,'" Anna Scelzo, the lead author of the study, said.
The researchers also noticed that the older participants exhibited self-confidence and good decision-making skills.
"This paradox of aging supports the notion that well-being and wisdom increase with aging even though physical health is failing," Jeste said.
One of the participants described how he is coping with his wife's recent death, while another described how he perceives struggles.
"I lost my beloved wife only a month ago and I am very sad for this. We were married for 70 years. I was close to her during all of her illness and I have felt very empty after her loss. But thanks to my sons, I am now recovering and feeling much better. I have four children, ten grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. I have fought all my life and I am always ready for changes. I think changes bring life and give chances to grow."
"I am always thinking for the best. There is always a solution in life. This is what my father has taught me: to always face difficulties and hope for the best."
The study also revealed that the older participants were more domineering and stubborn.
"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," Scelzo explained.
The researchers are planning to follow up with the participants by conducting multiple assessments of their physical and psychological health.
"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," Jeste said.