Seniors in Sardinia are less depressed than elderly people living in other parts of Italy, according to a new study.

The authors say their study is "crucial" in understanding the "possible socio-cultural and lifestyle differences" that can affect a person's mental health later in life.

In fact, people who live in Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean south of Corsica, are already known for their longevity but a new study published in the journal Applied Research Quality of Life, is conferring another characteristic: mental well-being.

“Positive aging is more evident in Sardinia, especially in rural areas, where the maintenance of an adequate social status and physical activity help guarantee a positive level of mental health in later life,” according to the authors.

Researchers discovered how location can affect your mental health. At the end of their study, they found that elderly Sardinians were less depressed, more satisfied and had better coping strategies than their peers who lived elsewhere.

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Seniors who lived in the city were more depressed than those in rural areas in Sardinia say researchers. (Max Rossi/Reuters)

The study’s authors, Maria Chiara Fastame and Maria Pietronilla Penna from the University of Cagliari in Italy, and Paul Hitchcott from Southampton Solent University in the U.K., measured the mental health and capacity of 191 mentally healthy Italian-born 60 to 99 year-olds who lived  in Sardinia.

Study participants included seniors from Lombardy in Northern Italy, the Sardinian city Sassari and the Sardinian villages of Bargagia and Ogliastra.

To qualify, elders had to be native-born, permanent residents of these places. They also had to be descendants of people originally from those areas for at least two generations. Participants were assessed individually in their own homes. To avoid fatigue, the interviewer read the questions out loud and wrote down the responses. 

Detailed testing

Individual assessments were based on the following:

  • An interview to collect information on socio-demographic characteristics and lifestyle (e.g., marital status, hobbies, time spent in leisure activities each week).
  • The Mini-Mental State Examination— composed of 30 items that assess general cognitive function.
  • The vocabulary sub-test of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale–Revised (WAIS-R) — a measure of memory, which requires the respondent to refer to the meaning of 35 items.
  • The Centre for Epidemiological Studies of Depression Scale (CES-D) — consists of 20 items assessing depressive symptoms experienced during the past week using a scale.

In the end, the authors concluded that Sardinian seniors, and those from Ogliastra in particular, are more content because they are physically and socially active and feel valued in addition to being respected and supported by their younger counterparts. 

Fastame and her colleagues discovered that people from Ogliastra were better off psychologically than those from Lombardy.

The study noted that older Sardinians from Sassari are well off, physically fit, have easy access to mental health services and are actively involved socially, culturally and in recreational pursuits.

"[The greater life satisfaction and better coping strategies] can be due to the more active and satisfying life of the Sardinian [elders], a phenomenon that seems to be related to the high social involvement of the elders in their communities," said the study.

Other findings:

  • Women suffered from depression more than men, and seniors who lived in the city were more depressed than those in rural areas. 
  • Participants between 75 and 99 years-old were more depressed than seniors in the 60 to 74 age range.

The authors also expressed concern about their finding of marked depression among elderly people living in Northern Italy. They recommended psychology-based intervention programs to strengthen self-image and self-esteem and to improve quality of life and prevent depression.