University of Idaho
Reminiscence and Life Review Group for Elderly People
The population of the United States is rapidly aging, and as it does, concerns for the mental health and life satisfaction of the elderly is growing. The U.S. Census Bureau projects a 29% increase in the overall population from 2000 to 2030. In contrast, the number of people 65-84 is expected to grow by approximately 100%, and the number of those 85 and older is expected to increase by 125%. Counselors will increasingly be called upon to meet the unique needs of this older population. One type of group that is gaining more attention for its ability to promote the well-being of the elderly is a reminiscence and life review group. The terms reminiscence and life review are sometimes used interchangeably, but subtle distinctions have been made in the literature. Reminiscence involves the informal recollection of events and experiences, while life review is a structured examination of one’s entire life, often occurring at significant points (Stinson and Kirk, 2006). “Life review is more intense and actively tries to influence the above-mentioned working ingredients of reminiscence” (Bohlmeijer, Roemer, Cuijpers, & Smit, 2006 page 297). According to Erikson’s life stages, as people age they are faced with developing integrity or falling into despair (Carver & Scheier, 2004). At people age, the finiteness of life is realized. Some find a need to review their life, while others put up guards against what for them could be a painful experience (Corey, Corey, & Corey, 2008). Successful aging is the ability to reflect back on one’s life and find meaning and happiness, as opposed to despairing from a lack of purpose and perceived failures. “To explain the contribution of reminiscence to successful aging, four processes are often mentioned: identity-forming and self-continuity; enhancing meaning in life and coherence; preserving a sense of mastery; and promoting acceptance and reconciliation” (Bohlmeijer, Roemer, Cuijpers, & Smit, 2006 page 291). Reflecting on these experiences allows for developing a sense of identity and continuity as common threads are recognized. These common threads and positive events come together to provide a sense of meaning. By actively recalling and exploring feelings surrounding past events one finds a sense of control over current situations through recognition of their own resiliency. The final effect of this reminiscence in successful aging is acceptance and reconciliation from coming to terms with the circumstances of one’s life. Although reminiscence has in the past been viewed “as a symptom of mental deterioration and actively discouraged in the care of older people” (Stinson and Kirk, 2006 page 210), more recent studies have been conducted to investigate the actual effect such activities may have. It has been suggested that reminiscing in general, and life review more specifically can be effective methods for promoting psychological well being in older adults (Bohlmeijer, Roemer, Cuijpers, & Smit, 2006). Stinson and Kirk (2006) report “reminiscence has been studied to determine its impact on a variety of conditions including, but not limited to, depression, self esteem, fatigue, isolation, socialization, well-being, language acquisition and cognitive functioning” (page 209). There have been some conflicting results, but because of differences in methods of sampling, data collection, and experimental design it is difficult to accurately compare results (Bohlmeijer, Roemer, Cuijpers, & Smit, 2006). While some studies show little improvement based on assessments alone, observations of behavior have shown positive changes. For Chao et al. (2006), observations suggested that reminiscence group therapy assisted participants to become more actively involved in their surroundings, an effect that might...