Life Review Therapy Decreases Depression and Anxiety in Older Adults

There are currently numerous different approaches for the treatment of depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness therapy and other techniques aimed at transforming behavior and emotional reactions have been shown to be effective in some individuals. But older adults who develop depression present a unique set of challenges. These people often have difficulty accepting the life changes that accompany growing older. When children leave home, careers end, and physical health begins to decline, older adults can enter a phase of life that causes them to feel regret and remorse for experiences from their pasts.

A relatively new form of therapy known as life review therapy has been used to address depression that occurs in this season of life. But few studies have examined its effectiveness. To further explore this approach, Jojanneke Korte of the University of Twente’s Department of Health Psychology and Technology in The Netherlands recently led a study that compared life review therapy with usual care in a sample of 202 older adults with depression. The study was designed to assess symptoms of anxiety, depression, reminiscence, and past major depressive episodes (MDEs). Korte evaluated the participants at the conclusion of their treatment and again 3 months and 6 months posttreatment.

Korte found that the life review participants had greater gains in symptom reduction than the usual care participants at the conclusion of treatment and at both follow-ups. The reductions in depressive symptoms were significant, and smaller reductions were realized for symptoms of anxiety. The most dramatic improvements were evident in the participants who were the most extroverted. This could be due to their increased willingness to see things positively and share their emotions more freely than introverted individuals. These findings suggest that this form of life review therapy, which aims to help clients focus on positive past memories rather than dwell on negative life experiences, can help improve the overall emotional well-being of older individuals struggling to transition into this phase of life. Korte added, “It is possible that older adults who have difficulty finding meaning in the present may profit more from interventions that focus on the here and now.”

Korte, J., Bohlmeijer, E. T., Cappeliez, P., Smit, F., Westerhof, G. J. (2012). Life review therapy for older adults with moderate depressive symptomatology: A pragmatic randomized controlled trial. Psychological Medicine, 42.6, 1163-1173.

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  • Sage Therapy Center

    June 1st, 2012 at 2:48 AM

    I believe you were right about therapy helping most adults decrease depressions and tensions they experience in their everyday lives. I found this very helpful too and I really think life therapy would be beneficiary to all of us.

  • lisa oliver

    June 1st, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    But what about those older people who only get sadder when they think about all of the people that they may have lost in their lives? Or about those who tend to dwell not on the good things in life but they begin to mourn the life that they don’t have anymore? This kind of therapy could actually end up being more harmful than good to them right? I want to be able to have people have an outlet for remembering the good and forgetting about the bad, but you know that there will always be some patients who will find that pretty hard to do.

  • Lola

    June 1st, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    I disagree with Lisa. Most older people are really fond of looking back on their life with someone who will take the time to listen to tham and appreciate what they have to say. They love telling stories and reminiscing about the good old days.

  • Duffy

    June 2nd, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    I am only 20 and like talking about old memories.
    Why wouldn’t older people like that too?
    I think that most of us, especially when it has been a while since we lost someone, can look back on them a little nostagically instead of only with sadness.

  • Up,up..and away..!

    June 2nd, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    SO what exactly is the life review therapy all about? IS it just about looking back at everything that has happened in your life?

    Also, could the same be applied to a person in his middle age too? Because I see a lot of middle aged people being depressed and confused with their lives.

  • Betsy andrews

    June 3rd, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    I think back to my own grandmother and how any time there was any mention of someone in her life from the past, she would just get the biggest smile on her face. Thinking back allowed her to go back to happier times and focus on those in her life who had made her happy, and it took her away for a bit from the fact that illness was wrecking her right now. If this kind of therapy brings this to more older people, then I am all for implementing it.

  • Eleanor D

    June 4th, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    For some people this will just be too raw. Those kinds of emotions could really get in the way of some being able to make real progress.

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