The Older You are, The Wiser You Get

A new study published in the journal of International Psychogeriatrics  looked into the personality traits of people who had extraordinarily long lives to see if they could find any patterns. What that found was surprising. According to researchers, being an optimistic and stubborn person could add years to one’s life.

The scientists studied people living in nine remote villages in the Cilento area of southern Italy. These communities can boast of a population with hundreds of people older than 90. The study itself focused on 29 people between the ages of 90 and 101.

The study showed that although this population was in poorer general health than their younger family members, their mental health was in better shape.

“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,” said senior author Dr. Dilip Jeste, professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

“The main themes that emerged from our study and appear to be the 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 added.

The people also had a strong love of and attachment to the land on which they lived:

“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,’ ” said the key author of the study, Anna Scelzo, a mental health professional from Chiavarese, Italy.

The researchers also noted that the oldest folks had higher level of self-confidence and decision-making abilities compared to people relatively younger in their 50s, 60s and 70s.

“This paradox of aging supports the notion that well-being and wisdom increase with aging, even though physical health is failing,” Jeste said.

The research is not yet finished.

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 concluded.