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Stories Improve Health

Our society faces a significant challenge in the years ahead dealing with an increasingly ageing population. One of the challenges this creates is an increase in elderly people who will be suffering from depression, loneliness and general difficulties around their psychological well-being. Up to 15% of all older people currently suffer from some form of depression and up to 84% of the American population over 65 experience some degree of loneliness (*1).

It is increasingly important to understand the efficacy and costs of treatments for these conditions. I have just read two articles that measure the success of getting older people to tell stories about their lives on their rates of depression, loneliness and other aspects of their mental well being.

Chiang et. al. (2010) undertook a study amongst 90 nursing home residents in Taipei to measure the effect of reminiscence therapy on levels of psychological well being, depression and loneliness (2). Reminiscence therapy is a process whereby elder people review their past, recalling memories and sharing their experiences, either in a group setting or individually. Of the 90 people in the study, 45 undertook reminiscence therapy, with the other 45 being the control group.

The results of the study showed that reminiscence therapy reduced participants; depressive symptoms (as measured by the CES-D); psychological well-being (as measured by the RULS-V3) and improved their sense of loneliness (as measured by the RULS-V3) and MMSE).

These results reinforce those of Bohlmeijer et. al. (2003) who undertook a meta-analysis looking at 20 different studies to look at the effects of all aspects of reminiscence on depression in older adults (3). The results of their meta-analysis indicated that reminiscence and life review are effective treatments of depressive symptoms in older adults. The mean effect sizes they found were comparable to the effect sizes found for well-established treatments, such as anti-depressives and cognitive behaviour therapy. This study also points out that getting elderly people to reminisce, review their life and tell stories about it, offer a number of benefits over other interventions. They can be easily delivered, do not stigmatise people and are far less expensive than other alternatives.

For me, these two papers, and the supporting evidence contained within them, really show the role that encouraging elderly people to tell the stories of their lives has in increasing their psychological well-being.   

(1) Lauder, W., Mummery, K., Caperchione, C., & Jones, M. (2006). A comparison of health behaviours in lonely and non-lonely populations. Psychology, Health, and Medicine, 11(2), 233-245

(2) Kai-Jo Chiang, Hsin Chu, Hsiu-Ju Chang, Min-Huey Chung, Chung-Hua Chen, Hung-Yi Chiou and Kuei-Ru Chou (2010): The effects of reminiscence therapy on psychological well-being, depression, and loneliness among the institutionalized aged in International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, Volume 25, Issue 4, pages 380–388

(3) Bohlmeijer, E; Smit, F and Cuijper, P (2003): Effects of reminiscence and life review on late-life depression: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 2003; 18: 1088–1094.

January 24th, 2011 by Kevin Bishop
Filed in: Research
Permalink | Comments (2)

2 Responses to “Stories Improve Health”

  1. Sumayya Says:

    This is very interesting story. I think that it is important for eldery to communicate using the internet and chat with other people. It is amazing how internet overcome some loneliness issues.

  2. Sarah Jansen Says:

    That’s a great point Sumayya. Have you had experiences or heard of other people’s experiences connecting with a community through the internet?



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