Life review, acccording to Robert Butler who was one of the first gerontologists to write about the process and function of reminiscence in the lives and development of older people, is the tendency of older people towards self-reflection. The normal life review process is brought about by the realization of one's approaching dissolution and death. It is characterized by the progressive return to consciousness of past experiences, the resurgence of unresolved conflicts that can be looked at again and reintegrated, reflection on the significance and meaning to one's life, and the preparation for death which can help mitigate fear and anxiety. It is approached by older people or people experiencing crises of bereavement and loss with an intensity and emphasis on putting one's life in order. It is stimulated by free association, recall and assessment. Life review has to do with memory and with how we organize our memories. It is a process whereby people can give meaning to their lives and which leads to personality integration. Life review can be seen as part of a developmental process, the self in the making through dynamic processes. It is a process that interests life-span theorists. It is a purposive, reflective, retrospective process which dwells on the past in order to come to peace with the past and present.
Butler considered reminiscence to be one of the most natural and productive processes of older people who are coming to terms with their own lives and histories and who are preparing for death. He portrayed reminiscence and life review as characterized by the progressive return to consciousness of past experiences, particularly unresolved conflicts, that can be looked at again and reintegrated. If the reintegration is successful, it can give new significance and meaning to one's life and help one prepare for death. Butler felt that older people had vivid imaginations and memory for the past. There is renewed ability to free-associate and bring up material from the unconscious. Life review is often accompanied by a milder form of nostalgia with some regret. At other times it is more like a therapeutic process in which a person is trying to understand his/her life in an effort to resolve a painful sense of regret. He saw it is an adaptational process which is useful in reorganizing a sense of identity, in giving meaning to one's life, in fighting depression, and in resolving conflicts. Butler stated that it is a universal process motivated by the proximity of death and by the opportunity to resolve issues before "the closing of the gates..."
This acknowledgement of the process of life review in older people has been supported by many studies since Butler described it in the early 1960's. The positive effects of reminiscence have been studied in conjunction with emotional and spiritual healing for the older person, with creativity in the lives of older people and with its importance for intergenerational connections focusing on older people as figures of wisdom and guardians of historical and cultural data. Indeed, life review holds a significant place in gerontological literature and practice.
Some of the positive effects of reviewing one's life
can be a righting of old wrongs, making up with
enemies, coming to acceptance of mortal life, a sense
of serenity, pride in accomplishment, and a feeling
of having done one's best. It gives people an
opportunity to decide what to do with the time left
to them and work out emotional and material legacies.
people reflect a sense of resolution of their life
conflicts. A lively capacity to live in the present
is usually associated, including the direct enjoyment
of elemental pleasures such as nature, children, forms,
colors, warmth, love, and humor. One may become more
capable of mutuality with a comfortable acceptance of
the life cycle, the universe, and the generations.
Creative works may result, such as memoirs, art, and
music. People may put together family albums and
scrapbooks and study their genealogies (Butler).
The life review process as such is one in which younger generations can participate as part of a natural healing process for the older person as well as for the younger person in the act of sharing across the ages.
Sample Life Review Interview Schedule 1) When and where were you born?
2) Where did you grow up?
3) What was your community like growing up?
4) What kind of schooling did you have?
5) Tell me about your parents/stepparents?
6) Did you have any brothers or sisters? Tell me about them.
7) How would you describe yourself during your childhood?
8) What was it like when you were a teenager?
9) Did you marry? At what age? If not, why not?
10) Tell me about your marriage, about your first job, about leaving home.
11) Tell me about your career. What were your doing in your 30's, 40's, and 50's?
12) Did you have children? Tell me about raising your children.
13) What was your relationship with your children over the years?
14) Do you have a close relationship with your children now?
15) Who else are you close to?
16) Who have been the most influential people at various stages in your life? Why? When? What were you doing at that time?
17) Who are the important people in your life now?
18) Do you keep in touch with any of your old friends?
19) If you had to pick one person who had a major impact on your life, who would it be? Why?
20) How have your friendships changed through the years?
21) How do/did you feel about retirement?
22) Describe your health and your feelings about it.
23) Could you describe to me a typical day?
24) What makes you happy now?
25) Who are the people you are closest to now? How often do you see them? How many friends would you say you have now?
26) To whom would you go for help with financial aid; housekeeping; transportation; emotional support?
27) What do you feel have been the important successes in your life?
28) What do you feel have been the disappointments?
29) If you could live your life over, what would you do differently?
30) What about your life would you change?
31) Could you describe any turning points in your life?
32) What have been the most influential experiences in your life?
33) What sorts of things frighten you now? When you were in your 60's, 50's, 40's, 30's, 20's, a child?
34) What sorts of things give you the most pleasure now? When you were in your 60's, 50's, 40's, 30's, 20's, a child?
35) What is your best quality? your worst quality?
36) Which of your parents/stepparents do you think you are the most similar to? why? how?
37) Do you have any philosophy of life? If a person came to you asking you what the most important thing in living a good life is, what would you say?
38) What do you think has stayed the same about you during your life? What do you think has changed?
39) How do you see yourself?
40) Did you have any expectations at various points in your life about what growing older would be like for you? What about when your parents grew older?
41) How do you feel about growing older?
42) What is the hardest thing about growing older? the best thing?
43) What would you still like to accomplish in your life?
44) Do you think about the future? make plans? What are your concerns for the future?
In addition to these questions about the individual's unique life history, students are interested in questions about social history, about how individuals lived through various times such as the Great Depression or world wars. Another focus of questioning can be on policy and health care issues facing older people today. The interview schedule can include questions that gather data about these areas of shared experience.
Life Review Interview Analysis The analysis of the information gathered from a life review interview is extremely important to an in-depth understanding of the individual older person, of his/her personality development, and of the aging process. Ofen times this analysis also provides data on social, psychological, historical, and cultural themes. Like much qualitative research, it involves the process of content analysis; it requires looking at the data to develop content codes which help explain the meaning of the information that has been gathered. The content codes used in this analysis are themes. Students will be asked to analyze the themes that are present in the life review of the individual, appearing throughout the narrative.
Sharon Kaufman in The Ageless Self argues that older people create a continuity of self in describing the meaning of their lives which is revealed in the life review process. They maintain a sense of self and of continuous identity across the life span and thus can "be themselves" in old age. In order to achieve ego integrity they integrate and accept diverse experiences of a lifetime into what Kaufman calls themes. These themes are created by people as a means by which they interpret and evaluate their life experience. Themes are organizational and explanatory markers which connect and integrate diverse experiences and create and maintain continuity. Themes fall into different types. Some are sources of meaning from the past such as the influences of money, rural or urban upbringing, class status, education, occupation, religion, and geographic mobility. Others are sources of meaning from the present such as activity and productivity in the daily routine, family ties, friendships, and health. Using these themes to establish a cohesive sense of identity is a process through which a person creates meaning, organizes the past, explains events, and communicates with others. Kaufman argues that by following this process people dynamically integrate a wide range of experience, unique situations, structural forces, values, cultural pathways, and knowledge of an entire life span to construct a current and viable identity. As people interpret the events, experiences, conditions, and priorities of their lives, making connections and drawing conclusions as they proceed, they formulate themes. In this way, individuals know themselves and explain who they are to others.
Kaufman argues that there are four to six themes for each life story. They represent conceptions of meaning that emerge over and over in the texts. Examples of the kinds of themes Kaufman found in the life review material from the subjects in her book include affective ties, financial status, marriage, work, social status, community service, self-reliance, industry, initiative, search for spiritual understanding, discipline, service, acquiescence, self-determination, financial security, religion, disengagement, family, achievement orientation, creativity, need for relationships, and selflessness. Kaufman argues that these themes are identifiable in individual life reviews because of the repetitive nature of these factors. By closely analyzing the life review content these four to six themes will be readily discernible. Kaufman also argues that there is no uniform set of themes; they are highly individualistic. By closely examining the material from an individual's life review interview these themes will emerge quite clearly and be an important source of organizing the data and of the understanding the unique and idiosyncratic older individual.
References Butler, Robert N. and Myrna I. Lewis. 1982. Aging and Mental
Health. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
Butler, Robert. 1974. "Successful Aging and the Role of the
Life Review." Journal of American Geriatric Society
Kaufman, Sharon R. 1986. The Ageless Self: Sources of
Meaning in Late Life. Madison, Wisconsin: University