“When I Was Your Age. . .”: Benefits of Reminiscence & Storytelling

You may recall stories your parents told you about when they were growing up. One poignant story my dad loved to tell my sister and me centered on how he was dumped by all three of his kindergarten girlfriends in a span of 60 seconds during one fateful afternoon drawing activity.

As the story goes, my six-year-old dad had somehow acquired three tot-sized girlfriends in his class—that is, until he was forced to choose whose art project he liked the best. His honest answer, combined with accidentally stepping on one girlfriend’s foot, cut short all three budding romances in rapid succession. As my dad reminds us each time he tells that story, he never dated multiple women at the same time after that traumatic day.

Aside from being a way for older adults to transmit life lessons to younger generations (e.g., dating tips), new research suggests that reminiscing and storytelling may be an important way for older adults to change stereotypical views of themselves in the mind of younger generations, while bolstering perceived quality of life and decreasing levels of loneliness in older populations at the same time.

One notable study in this vein, published earlier this year in Educational Gerontology, tested the efficacy of an intergenerational group reminiscence intervention for the purpose of boosting children’s perceptions of older adults and increasing a variety of well-being measures in older participants. The study examined pre- and post-intervention scores from 32 older adults and 114 child participants. Children were assigned to one of 16 groups, each including two older adults and six to eight children. The intervention consisted of three meetings a week for approximately two hours per session—coming to a grand total of around six hours of reminiscing exposure time per participant.

By comparing participants’ pre- and post-intervention measures, the researchers found, in accordance with their hypotheses, that children’s perceptions of older adults showed improvement after the reminiscence intervention compared to pre-intervention levels. Furthermore, the intervention was also found to contribute to a statistically significant decrease in older adult participants’ feelings of certain types of loneliness. Explicitly, “emotional loneliness” was found to decrease post-intervention; however, perceived levels of “social loneliness” in older adult participants did not experience marked change as a result of the intervention. The researchers argued post-hoc that the construct of social loneliness—referring to one’s feeling of belonging in social networks for the purpose of creating meaningful social connections—may not have shown any change due to the short duration of the intervention. Clearly more research is needed to provide additional support and clarity to the relationships between the variables in question.

With that said, it appears that intergenerational group reminiscing may indeed be a feasible and useful tool for bolstering the well-being of older adults in the eyes of the children who listen to their tales and life lessons learned, from kindergarten romance and beyond.

Reference:

Gaggioli A, Morganti L, Bonfiglio ., et al. Intergenerational group reminiscence: A potentially effective intervention to enhance elderly psychosocial wellbeing and to improve children’s perception of aging. Educational Gerontology (2014); 40: 486–498.

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