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Mixed-methods quantitative-qualitative study of 29 nonagenarians and centenarians in rural Southern Italy: focus on positive psychological traits.

  • Author(s): Scelzo, Anna
  • Di Somma, Salvatore
  • Antonini, Paola
  • Montross, Lori P
  • Schork, Nicholas
  • Brenner, David
  • Jeste, Dilip V
  • et al.
Abstract

OBJECTIVE:This was a study of positive psychological traits in a group of rural Italians aged 90 to 101 years, and their children or other family members. DESIGN:Mixed-methods quantitative (standardized rating scales) and qualitative (semi-structured interviews) study. SETTING:Study participants' homes in nine villages in the Cilento region of southern Italy. PARTICIPANTS:Twenty-nine nonagenarians and centenarians and 51 family members aged 51-75 years, selected by their general practitioners as a part of a larger study called CIAO (Cilento Initiative on Aging Outcomes). METHODS:We used published rating scales of mental and physical well-being, resilience, optimism, anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. Qualitative interviews gathered personal narratives of the oldest-old individuals, including migrations, traumatic events, and beliefs. Family members described their impressions about the personality traits of their older relative. RESULTS:Participants age ≥90 years had worse physical health but better mental well-being than their younger family members. Mental well-being correlated negatively with levels of depression and anxiety in both the groups. The main themes that emerged from qualitative interviews included positivity (resilience and optimism), working hard, and bond with family and religion, as described in previously published studies of the oldest old, but also a need for control and love of the land, which appeared to be unique features of this rural population. CONCLUSIONS:Exceptional longevity was characterized by a balance between acceptance of and grit to overcome adversities along with a positive attitude and close ties to family, religion, and land, providing purpose in life.

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