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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