A new study has found a link between the mental well-being of the elderly and where they live.
Specifically, researchers discovered that those who live in more rural areas enjoy better mental health.
The study by researchers at the University of Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra University in Spain focuses on a field that has been little studied to date: The association between the main variables related to the satisfactory mental well-being of the elderly and the rural or urban characteristics of the environment in which they live.
“The perception that older people living in rural areas have with regard to the limitations of health and aging is associated with less deterioration of mental well-being, while living in urban areas is related with an increased risk of suffering emotional problems attributable to economic difficulties or a low level of education,” the researchers said in the study, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
The researchers say that encouraging older people to live in rural areas could lead to greater well-being in later life.
The researchers used cross-sectional microdata from 2015 and 2017 from the Health Survey of Catalonia (ESCA), an official survey administered to the entire population residing in Catalonia, which is conducted continuously throughout the year.
The sample, which is representative of the overall population, included 2,621 individuals (1,219 men and 1,402 women) aged 65 and over living in municipalities classified as rural, semi-urban, and urban.
Each person responded to a questionnaire, providing information on their health and lifestyles in relation to a wide range of socio-demographic factors, the researchers explained. The results were measured using the Short Warwick-Edinburgh scale of mental wellbeing (SWEMWBS), which allowed the researchers to extract indicators of mental wellbeing.
The study sought to identify factors that may influence the mental wellbeing of older people, including where they live, as well as socio-demographic, health, and lifestyle characteristics.
Some of the risk factors identified by the researchers included demographic factors, economic status, self-perceived health, physical health burden, functional limitations and dependence, social support, family burden, physical activity and sleep hours.
“Variables related to health status, personal autonomy and social support appear to be strongly associated with mental well-being,” the researchers said in the study.
The study’s finding show that those who live in the most rural areas had a better level of mental wellbeing. For example, 21.4 percent of the people who lived in urban areas had deficient scores, compared to 17.4 percent for people who lived in semi-rural areas and 12.9 percent for rural residents.
According to the researchers, the study affirms that social policies should seek to address not only health problems but also well-being including mental health, in both urban and rural environments.
“Our results reinforce the belief that good social welfare policies are crucial,” the researchers concluded. “Policymakers must try to plan the specific provision of services to cover different geographic areas that present different demographic patterns.”
The study was conducted by Drs. Manuela Alcañiz and Maria-Carme Riera-Prunera, researchers at the Department of Econometrics, Statistics and Applied Economics at the University of Barcelona, and Dr. Aïda Solé-Auró, a researcher of the Sociodemography research group (DemoSoc) at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.
Source: Pompeu Fabra University