Q. My mom tells us the same stories about the past over and over. She knows she is repeating them without us telling her that, but she keeps doing it. Why?
— Linda, La Crescenta
A recent study from the Association for Psychological Science states, “Nostalgia is now emerging as a fundamental human strength.” Reminiscing, the process of “life review,” is an important part of old age.
As seniors recall their accomplishments and come to terms with past conflicts and disappointments, they achieve a heightened sense of personal identity and meaning in life. Reminiscing also enhances self-esteem.
It is common for family and friends to be concerned if the older adult repeats stories, returning to the same ones again and again. But recognize that this, too, is part of the life review process: The repeated stories are probably those that she finds the most pleasant to recall, or may concern events that she is “working through.”
Remember that a response from you is not necessarily required; she may just need you to listen in a non-judgmental manner.
Sometimes an older adult may seem to dwell upon life experiences that cause sadness, anger or frustration. Understand that this, too, is a way of dealing with the past and can be a sign of emotional health. Allow these feelings to come out, and don’t try to suppress such expressions by immediately attempting to cheer up or distract your loved one.
But if she seems “stuck” in a particular disturbing experience or time, encourage her to speak to her healthcare provider.
Older adults are a treasury of stored experience. Life review and discussing “the good old days” is a beneficial, purposeful activity that helps older adults maintain a positive outlook.
If reminiscing seems beneficial for your loved one, there are classes available in the community about writing one’s autobiography.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor’s degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to email@example.com or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, 790-0123, ext. 225.