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Reminiscing Helps Ward off Depression, Study Reveals

Past satisfaction with life, even if it's simply recalling isolated career accomplishments, is the key to happiness in our oldest years.

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Remembering career accomplishments can help older adults maintain happiness in their senior years, according to research. Companionship and the assistance of a professional caregiver can be an important component of happiness throughout life as well.

Q. My 85-year-old dad, who was a successful businessman, seems depressed lately and I'm not sure what I can do to pull him out of the blues. He's starting to experience a little dementia and I know he struggles with loneliness, since he lives by himself.

Reliving your dad's glory days may help. A study of 158 Georgia centenarians has found that past satisfaction with life, even if it's simply recalling isolated career accomplishments, is the key to happiness in our oldest years. Researchers from Iowa State University's gerontology program have helped identify what predicts happiness and long life in centenarians, as well as what causes depression in seniors 80 and older.

"The past is the best predictor of the future, so you're not going to turn your life around at 85 or 90," said Peter Martin, director of Iowa State's gerontology program and a professor of human development and family studies (HDFS), who collaborated on both studies. "But it's also good to know that past accomplishments and the happiness that you had -- looking back at your past -- carries you through these very last years."

Your dad's cognitive decline also could be contributing to depression, researchers discovered. For the depression study, researchers added 78 octogenarians (people 80 or older) to the happiness centenarian sample. They found that diminished cognitive problem-solving ability was a significant predictor of depression in octogenarians, while living in a nursing home increased depression among centenarians.

Researchers also were surprised to learn that overall cognition was not a stronger predictor of depression at either age. Rather, it was the loss of the subject's control -- problem-solving in the octogenarians, and choosing where they lived in the centenarians -- that tended to depress them.

While there was no indication that resources affect happiness, past life satisfaction, even individual achievements, was found to have a direct association.

Why not help your dad reminisce by reconnecting with others with whom he could share stories. Senior centers and churches or synagogues are good places to go. Or consider hiring a caregiver companion who would love to hear all about his life. Home Instead® hires CAREGiversSM who love to listen.

Last revised: May 21, 2011

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