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Remember the Studebaker?
Reminiscing as Therapy for Your Parents

By Paula Tchirkow, MSW, LSW, ACSW
(Page 1 of 2)

Not again? Youíve heard that story about Sunday trips in the big black Studebaker at least 100 times. But you sit politely as your elderly mother recalls her grandfatherís rumble seat, running boards, chrome grill and overflowing picnic basket.

Itís likely that your mother has not forgotten that she told you the story before. And sheís not just shooting the breeze or living in the past. Your elderly parent is bolstering her self esteem by reminiscing. Like many older adults, she is engaging in an important psychological process called ďlife cycle review,Ē and itís healthy.

Encouraging an older adult to reminisce is one of the easiest and most effective techniques you can use to boost their confidence and brighten their mood. In fact, itís virtually foolproof as a method of combating mild depression or loneliness.

Go ahead, give it a try. Next time the Studebaker story comes up, engage your mother. Ask her how many people fit in the car? Did it have a rag top? How fast did it go? What were the roads like back then? And what exactly was in that picnic basket?

The vivid connection to a time when your mother or father felt more alive, happier, successful, and useful reassures them that they werenít always in their current physical and mental state. Reminiscing helps older adults review past accomplishments and activities, thereby giving them a renewed sense of fulfillment about their life.

Although most people tend to focus on good memories, life cycle review can also help older family members become comfortable with the past. That is, the technique gives older adults an opportunity to admit and accept the parts of their lives that didnít go as well as expected.

Both the reckoning process, and the acknowledgement of happier times, clears up minor depression, reverses feelings of isolation, and helps parents get back into a rhythm of positive reinforcement that boosts physical and mental well being. To be sure, the benefits of storytelling and review are greatly underestimated.

To discover how valuable life cycle review can be for older adults, here are 10 tips to help you get the process started:

  • On your next visit, quickly survey the home for an object to spark a conversation. For example, a cookbook may start the person talking about a favorite recipe or holiday. A piece of antique furniture, nick-knacks, old records, needlepoint projects, a piece of clothing, even a dish towel has worked as a catalyst for conversation.

  • Visit the attic. If youíre not having luck with the items that are in plain view, donít be shy about taking a trip to the attic or basement to dig out old photos, cards and letters, maybe a wedding dress. Personal props such as these can trigger a flood of memories and conversations.

  • Use scents. Without fail, certain smells bring back memories almost instantaneously. That may be because the sense of smell is the most primitive of our senses, and the last to fail. Even older adults suffering from advance stages of dementia usually respond to smells, albeit not verbally. For instance, their eyes may brighten or a smile may appear when they get a whiff of cinnamon, wildflowers, fresh baked goods, peppermint, or coffee.

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