Insights Into Sibling Relationships and Longevity From Genetics of Healthy Ageing Nonagenarians: The Importance of Optimisation, Resilience and Social Networks

Jennifer Nicola M. Rea, Katarzyna Milana Broczek, Elisa Cevenini, Laura Celani, Susanne Alexandra J. Rea, Ewa Sikora, Claudio Franceschi, Vita Fortunati, Irene Maeve Rea

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Understanding how to “Age Longer and Age Well” is a priority for people personally, for populations and for government policy. Approximately ten percent of nonagenarians reach 90 years and beyond in good condition and seem to have a combination of both age-span and health-span. However, the factors which contribute to human longevity remain challenging. Culture is a shared system of learning ideas, feelings, and survival strategies. It has a strong influence on each person’s psychological development, behavior, values and beliefs. Nonagenarians have rich life experiences that can teach us much about aging well; they are rich reservoirs of genetic, lifestyle and psychological information which can help understanding about how to live longer and better. Sibling or trio nonagenarians are important sources of family beliefs and behaviors upon which individual personalities may have been built. Their personal family histories and narratives are powerful tools that help to determine familial traits, beliefs and social behaviors which may help establish factors important in the siblings’ longevity. Using purposefully selected subjects, recruited to the Genetics of Healthy Ageing (GeHA) project in four European countries, this research used the simple life story and qualitative research methods to analyze contrasting and distinctive questions about the interface between the psychological and social worlds as presented in the nonagenarian siblings’ insights about their longevity. Their stories aimed to give better understanding about which psychological aspects of their common life journey and the degree of emotional support in their sibling relationships may have supported their paths to longevity. The most universal finding in each of the four European countries was that nonagenarians demonstrated high positivity, resilience and coping skills and were supported in social networks. Around this theme, nonagenarians reported “being happy,” “always cheerful,” “never melancholy” and having a contentment with a “rich life” and family relationships which fits with accumulating evidence that life satisfaction comes from a perceived self-efficacy and optimism. Most sibling relationships in this study, when analyzed according to the Gold classification, fit the “congenial” or “loyal” relationship type – demonstrating a healthy respect for the others’ opinion without overt dependence, which may help individual coping and survival mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number722286
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Early online date6 May 2022
Publication statusPublished online - 6 May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded in part by EU Socrates Erasmus Programme for Thematic Network, Interfacing Science, Literature and Humanities ACUME2 (227942-CP-1-2006-1-IT-ERASMUS-TN2006-2371/001 SO2-23RETH), Atlantic Philanthropies, Changing Ageing Partnership Grant, Queens Foundation Trust (R9158PHM) (IR), Wellcome Trust Project Grant (045519/Z/95/Z) (IR), Eastern Health and Social Care Board Research Fellowship Grant (IR), and Belfast Trust Fund (Research and Education into Ageing (0-132) (IR).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Rea, Broczek, Cevenini, Celani, Rea, Sikora, Franceschi, Fortunati and Rea.


  • Psychology
  • nonagenarian siblings
  • nonagenarian sibling relationships
  • Gold typologies
  • coping strategies
  • optimism
  • resilience
  • social activities engagement


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