Kevin McKee
Growing Older
The ESRC Research Programme on Extending Quality of Life



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Evaluating the Impact of Reminiscence
on the Quality of Life of Older People

Research Team:
Dr Kevin Mckee
Ms Gillie Bolton
Dr Man Chung
  Dr Fiona Goudie
  Ms Fiona Wilson
  Ms Helen Elford
Duration of Research:
February 2000 - May 2002
Dr Kevin Mckee
The University of Sheffield Sheffield
Institute for Studies on Ageing Community Sciences Centre
Northern General Hospital
Sheffield, S5 7AU
Tel:  +44 (0)114 271 4099
Fax: +44 (0)114 271 5771

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Since Butler's(1) work on the concept of `life review`, there has been growing interest in the benefits of reminiscence for older people's quality of life (QoL). A review of the small number of empirical studies indicate contradictory findings, whilst the sheer weight of anecdotal support, from participants, observers and health professionals, indicates the need for a substantive evaluation. There is a lack of clarity as to what exactly constitutes reminiscence and little work on the degree of overlap between reminiscence, life review and disclosure.

Reminiscence activities may serve different functions, for example, the function served by life review may be primarily intrapersonal and concerned with identity maintenance, whereas reminiscence may serve primarily interpersonal functions. Thus the contexts in which life review and reminiscence occur (group, one-to-one or alone) may well impact on QoL outcomes.

Cognitive impairment is often seen as a barrier to reminiscence work, particularly life review. However, the past decade has seen a growth in psychotherapy with people with dementia. The approaches in psychotherapy of story telling and exploration of meanings, share many of the characteristics of reminiscence work, and a review of therapeutic intervention must include disadvantaged and cognitively impaired older people.

Aims and Objectives

The study has the following aims:

To determine whether disclosure, reminiscence or life review have different impacts on QoL for older people.
To evaluate the context (one to one, group, alone) and activity form (writing, verbal) in developing appropriate therapeutic activities for older people.
To analyse how cognitive impairment moderates the influence of these activities on QoL, and so inform therapeutic interventions for frail and disadvantaged older people.
To explore the role and benefits for informal carers and care staff in facilitating in reminiscence therapy, and thus contribute to a therapeutic care giving relationship.

Study Design

The study is a mixed factorial design involving older people from residential and community care settings to take part in an evaluation of reminiscence type activities. Older people will participate in reminiscence activities. Aspects of a person's QoL will be assessed during and immediately after each of the reminiscence sessions. A baseline QoL assessment will be carried out one week before the first reminiscence session and a final assessment one month after the last session. Multivariate analysis of data will indicate main effects and interactions.

Semi-structured interviews and focus groups will be conducted with family carers, older people and care staff, to understand what kind of reminiscence occurs informally. Barriers to and benefits of reminiscence-type activities will be identified.

Policy Implications

A formal evaluation will produce clear evidence concerning the potential therapeutic values of reminiscence activities, thus empowering care staff, informal carers, and all older people, including those who may be cognitively impaired.

Dissemination will take place through a variety of channels involving public health, community health, primary care, social service and advocacy networks and will include a mini conference aimed at those in the public and private sectors, voluntary organisations, health and social care professionals, and older people advocacy and support groups.

1. Butler, R.N. (1963). The life review: an interpretation of reminiscence in the aged. Psychiatry , 26, 65-75.