Open Access Open Badges Research article

Social relationships and HRQL: A cross-sectional survey among older Italian adults

Antonio Giulio de Belvis1*, Maria Avolio1, Lorella Sicuro1, Aldo Rosano2, Elide Latini3, Gianfranco Damiani1 and Walter Ricciardi1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Catholic University 'Sacro Cuore', Rome, Italy

2 Italian Institute of Social Medicine, Rome, Italy

3 Agency of Public Health, Lazio Region, Rome, Italy

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:348  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-348

Published: 3 October 2008



The aim of this study is to investigate the association between social relationships and Health Related Quality of Life (HRQL) among the elderly in Italy.


A sample of 33,744 Italian residents, representing the non-institutionalised population aged 60 years and over was extracted from the national ISTAT cross-sectional survey during 1999–2000. HRQL was measured with the SF-12, from which the Physical Component Score (PCS) and Mental Component Score (MCS) were obtained. Data were subjected to descriptive analysis and multiple logistic regression models with adjustment for the main confounders.


Our analysis shows a gradient in PCS and MCS among the terziles in seeing/meeting "friends" and "family" and, for PCS, a North-South gradient among the Italian regions. Females, the elderly who reported a lower household income, those who spent less time in recreational and religious activities, who lived too far from their relatives and had few relationships with friends and relatives, were significantly less likely to have an MCS above the median value. For PCS, an increase in HRQL was likely to be associated with a higher educational level, while lower PCS scores were associated with: age 75+, inadequate household income, unmarried status, infrequency of seeing/meeting friends, too high a mean distance from own home to relatives' homes, lack of leisure time spent in recreational activities, living in the Centre-South of Italy, chronic diseases, reduced autonomy, and use of drugs during the previous two days. Significant interactions between suffering from one chronic disease and the use of drugs were also found for both MCS and PCS.


Some dimensions of social relationships were significantly associated with HRQL. These findings are crucial for devising welfare strategies at both the regional and the European level, i.e. in countries such as Italy where the primacy of family support of the elderly has declined in recent years.