Memory Banking: An Innovative Approach to Improving Mental Health in Older Adults

October 14, 2014 | Found In:  Aging

StorytellingMany of the most interesting and innovative research studies to emerge in gerontology are focused on non-pharmacological, behavior-based interventions to improve quality of life. At Changing the Way the World Ages, we love to highlight this research because it is in line with our mission to embrace the journey of aging, and find meaning and a sense of purpose at each of stage of life.

In this quarter’s peer-reviewed Journal of Aging and Health, a group of American researchers, headed by the University of Maryland’s Faika Zanjani, explored a novel intervention to promote improved mental health in aging adults: Memory Banking (MB). MB is described as a “life story development intervention” in which participants map out their “future dreams, aspirations, plans, and decisions.”

The MB project stemmed from a realization that despite a consistently increasing lifespan, “…as a society, we have a hard time identifying with our aging selves…” The authors attribute this disconnect partially to ageism, which paints a less than ideal picture of aging, contributing to anxiety rather than excitement about growling older. The authors also feel that there is a lack of promotion of reflection and planning for the future in terms of managing the types of roles and activities that can come with increasing age, such as being grandparents, retirees, caregivers and/or care recipients.

MB is built on research that has found that individuals who take the time to engage in “narrative life history interviews,” essentially talking about and sharing stories about their lives, are more personally satisfied and exhibit better mental health outcomes than their counterparts who do not participate in the same social reminiscence. The mental health benefit is in part attributed to the socialization factor – emotional support from others reduces stress, depression and loneliness. The MB program as utilized in this study involved asking participants to share stories related to the following eight life domains:

  • Family/friends
  • Work/volunteering
  • Spirituality
  • Place/home
  • Education/learning
  • Leisure/hobbies
  • Health
  • Historical contexts

Individuals not only shared their life stories to date, but also future dreams, aspirations, plans, and decisions related to these specific life domains. It’s not hard to imagine why the innovative program contributed to improved mental health outcomes in individuals who participated; avoidance of important topics such as health and family as they relate to aging can lead to increased anxiety and distress as well as a feeling of being ill-prepared when changes do occur. Being reflective about ones’ past and mindful about one’s future can promote mastery and confidence.

What do you think of the Memory Banking (MB) approach to mental health? What are some of your future goals and plans?

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