Evoking Reminiscence in Nursing Home Residents with Indirect Cues


  • Linda A. Henkel Fairfield University
  • Alison Kris Fairfield University
  • Emily Peters Fairfield University


Reminiscence, Involuntary Memory, Autobiographical Memory, Aging and Memory, Functions of Reminiscence


Reminiscing about the past can occur deliberately or spontaneously in response to either direct or indirect cues. The purpose of this study was to examine instances of reminiscence evoked by relatively indirect cues in interviews of older adult nursing home residents with varying levels of cognitive impairment and with young adults. Interview questions were based on structured themes drawn from models of functions of autobiographical memories (social/conversation, advice, historical reflection, identity). The interview offered opportunities for, but did not require, discussion of one’s autobiographical memories. Differences were examined between young and older adults in how often and when they reminisced as well as the content and qualities of their evoked memories. Results demonstrated more frequent indirectly-cued reminiscence by older adults than by young adults, with the greatest frequency of reminiscence occurring during a conversation task. Reminiscences tended to be direct responses to questions rather than tangential thoughts, contained more semantic than episodic content, and were more general than specific; however, specific reminiscences were indeed evoked. Based on these findings, we suggest that providing nursing home residents with opportunities to engage in casual conversations with specific yet indirect prompts may increase the frequency of reminiscence and provide an enhancement to more structured reminiscence activities and therapies.