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  February 17, 2004

Reminiscing Improves Elders'
Well Being, Says Nursing Prof

When Juliette Shellman started to practice nursing some 10 years ago, she noticed that reminiscing with her elderly patients made them feel better.

Image: Juliette Shellman

Juliette Shellman, assistant professor of nursing, is studying the benefits of reminiscing for elderly people.

Photo by Dollie Harvey

"I could see a real difference in them," says Shellman, an assistant professor of nursing. "I noticed that my patients liked to talk about the past, and the more I would initiate conversation, the better my patients seemed to feel. Talking about the past made them happier. It took them away from their present situation."

Shellman's experiences working in a convalescent home piqued her interest to pursue the study of reminiscence as a tool to improve patients' well-being.

She earned a master's degree in nursing in 1998, specializing in community health, and her Ph.D. last year - both at UConn. Her dissertation focused on how a reminiscence education program affects nursing students' confidence in caring for elders.

She is now working on a study to test the effects of a reminiscence program on depression and life satisfaction among older African-America ns. "While depression in elders is a significant problem, research has shown that minority elders are particularly vulnerable to it," she says.

She plans to gather data on the effectiveness of reminiscence as an intervention and to identify which aspects - such as number and length of sessions - may contribute to decreased levels of depression and increased satisfaction with life.

"African-American elders with multiple medical problems are particularly at risk for depression," Shellman says. "Since more people in that population are expected to reach age 60, there is a greater need for research on interventions to decrease depression and promote their health and well-being."

While the therapeutic effects of reminiscence have been well documented in the literature, Shellman notes, there is little research regarding the use of it as an intervention with African-Americans.

She says the process of reminiscence may allow these older adults to come to terms with unresolved conflicts, deal with losses, appreciate accomplishments, and find meaning in significant past events.

One of the findings of an earlier study she conducted on the life experiences of African-Americans, is that "while they enjoyed talking about it and felt good about it, nobody had ever asked them about their lives before," Shellman says. "This told me that we need to encourage nurses to reminisce with them. Benefits have been shown in other populations."

The results of that study also suggest that "reminiscing with African-American elders is one way to gain knowledge about them and to better understand their cultural perspectives, worldviews, and life experiences," Shellman says. "It also gives us an appreciation for the uniqueness of the individual and can help us avoid stereotypes and generalizations that may affect care."

Other researchers have concluded that older African-Americans often don't use the health care system, as a result of past and present discrimination, as well of lack of trust in health care professionals, Shellman adds.

"With the unprecedented growth in the African-American elderly population, there exists an urgent need to adequately prepare nurses to deliver culturally competent care and improve their quality of life," she says. "Healthcare professionals need to be able to deliver care to African-American elders, and be sensitive to their cultural characteristics and lifetime experiences."

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