In a new study, older adults who were given a chance to write a life review and then discuss it with a younger person experienced a greater sense of well-being and a rejuvenated sense of purpose.
The study, published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, evaluated the efficacy of a unique program in which senior citizens living independently wrote a review of their own lives and then discussed it with college students.
Previous research has shown that a life review — a systematic review of life events from childhood to present day — has a positive effect on the mental health of older adults, especially when done in writing.
Furthermore, programs integrating younger people with older adults have also been shown to enhance seniors’ sense of well-being, increasing intergenerational understanding, and decreasing depressive symptoms.
“A sense of purpose and meaning in life can affect disability status, cognitive function, and mortality among seniors,” said study author Tracy Chippendale, assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York University, Steinhardt.
“Effective interventions that can influence something known to prevent cognitive loss and disability are important for helping people to age in place.”
For the study, the researchers looked at the therapeutic benefits for community-dwelling seniors of the Living Legends program, which includes life review writing plus an interactive exchange between seniors and students, as compared with life review writing alone.
Thirty-nine seniors living at home were randomly assigned to a life review writing workshop or the workshop plus the interaction with young adults. For eight weeks, Chippendale met weekly with the older adults at senior centers and led them through the life review writing workshop, which included writing prompts, tips, and feedback.
After the workshop concluded, the older adults in the Living Legends group met with college students studying health sciences once a week for four weeks. In 90-minute sessions, the seniors read pieces of writing from the earlier workshop and took part in guided discussions with students about the content of their writing.
The findings showed a significant increase in the sense of purpose and meaning in life for older adults in the writing workshop plus the interactive exchange between students and seniors, but not for those in the writing workshop alone. The Living Legends program was particularly beneficial for older adults who had low initial scores for sense of purpose and meaning in life.
An analysis of the seniors’ written responses revealed even more benefits. The older adults found Living Legends to be a positive experience and felt that it promoted well-being, sharing, and learning. They also had positive views of the students, and valued the supportive environment provided by the program.
“Seniors expressed that the program gave them the opportunity to share their life adventures, create legacies, and inspire the next generation to examine their own lives. Their written responses shed light on the quantitative findings regarding enhanced sense of purpose and meaning in life,” said Chippendale.
“Given that purpose and meaning in life is an important factor with regard to preventing cognitive decline, disability, and mortality, the Living Legends program appears to be an effective health intervention, and may in turn help older adults remain at home longer,” said Chippendale.
Source: New York University