Life Review Therapy Helps Alleviate Depression in the Elderly

Some senior citizens are more than willing to share their stories of the "old days." Grandparents tell their grandchildren how they helped their family with tiring chores, made many things at home rather than buying them at the mall, and used their legs as a frequent mode of transportation across town.

Researchers are now finding that these stories of strength, character, endurance, joys, sorrows, and recovery are helping some senior citizens rebound from depression that has settled in during their elderly years or while they are nearing the end of their life. By sharing their life stories, they can look back over their years and see worth and meaning and can pass this history on to others so that a part of them will always live on.

Life Review Therapy, also called Reminiscence therapy, is a treatment where the review of one’s life gently helps alleviate depression as they enter into their end stage of life. Through positive memories, current negative thoughts may be dispersed and acceptance and worth of their lifetime achievements can be appreciated. Life Review Therapy is recommended for older adults who suffer from depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or who are in hospice or end-of-life care facilities.

Four years ago, physicians were touting Life Review Therapy, but no major studies had yet been conducted on its effectiveness. Recently, Jojanneke Korte of The Netherlands’ University of Twente’s Department of Health Psychology and Technology studied 202 older adults who exhibited symptoms of depression and compared those who were treated with Life Review Therapy with those who were treated with usual treatments. Her team gave attention to depression, anxiety, past major depressive episodes, and reminiscence.

Korte found that Life Review Therapy had markedly reduced depression symptoms in the participants, while anxiety symptoms were mildly improved. The more involved the participants were in telling their stories and sharing their experiences, the more positive their mood became.

For those who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, an old journal, photographs, or songs from a certain era may help stimulate and inspire memories and words. If they have trouble recalling stories, help recall some for them.

For those nearing death, encourage them to pour their stories out to those being left behind. Placing old nostalgic objects in their hands may be the putty that forms a chapter in their lives. It may bring a smile to their face, a chuckle, or a thoughtful lesson back to their memory.

Reviewing their life stories brings meaning to their years. It may bring peace, comfort, and acceptance. As they recall memories to younger family and caregivers, they may feel a swelling of self-worth that they can pass some wisdom along to the next generations.

Re-opening the book of the lives of older adults may help bring a closure free of depression, anxiety, or regret. Researchers hope that Life Review Therapy can gain momentum in helping older adults always close the book with a happy ending.

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