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Wednesday 30 July 2014

What is the Sardinian Smile?

An international research collaboration between Southampton Solent University and the University of Cagliari has bought us a step closer to understanding why some people live longer, happier and healthier lives.

Paul Hitchcott, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology along with Professor Maria Pietronilla Penna and Doctor Chiara Fastame compared the lifestyles of nearly 200 adults between 60 and 99 years living in Northern Italy and on the island of Sardinia, which is already well-known for the longevity of its inhabitants.


The research team wanted to find out if depression among the elderly was influenced by factors such as gender, marital status, age, lifestyle choices, levels of brain functioning and the environment.

The findings which were presented in paper entitled ‘Mental Health in Late Adulthood: What Can Preserve It,’ highlighted why strong social and emotional support to older people, more common in rural rather than urban areas is crucial in the fight against depression. The study also showed that urban social relationships are more superficial and related to people’s occupations and interests and lack a strong emotional dimension.

Paul said: “The major goal of the research was to investigate the part played by several socio-demographic and environmental factors, and lifestyle and cognitive efficiency measures in predicting perceived depressive signs in old and very old adults.”

“The Italian results are relevant to our own socio-economic climate here in the UK where we’ve also got a mix of urban and rural areas. The more we know about the depression among the elderly the more we can do to intervene, improve the quality of later life and prevent the debilitating effects of depression,” added Paul.

The study revealed that the Sardinians are physically active until late in life and feel more valued, respected and supported by younger generations than their peers in Northern Italy where there were more symptoms of depression. Overall depression was more common in women than men; and among city dwellers than those from rural areas.

  • One hundred and ninety-one were people were recruited.
  • Participants were assigned to old (60–74 years) and very old (75–99 years) groups.
  • The paper has already appeared in Springer’s journal Applied Research in Quality of Life.
  • The other authors of the study are Maria Chiara Fastame and Maria Pietronilla Penna from the University of Cagliari.
  • The study is published in Springer’s journal Applied Research in Quality of Life.

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