Replaying and Aging

Some elderly people contribute to their own isolation by boring people with tales that are more than twice told. This is one of the most common characteristics complained of by people who say they do not like to be with the aged, although old people by no means have the patent on repetitious speech.

But there is more purpose to this replaying of the past than might fall upon the bored ear. Notice that the scenes retold are very selective. Often these prove to have an integrating function for the individual. They serve to give the person something to organize himself around.  Furthermore, replaying can be the effect as well as the cause of social isolation in a deprived, alien, unwelcoming environment. The old person may have little other choice to call upon his own memory repertoire if he has to have any company at all. This is akin to the effect that sensory deprivation has on a person of any age; the mind takes over and furnishes the stimulation which is absent in the environment.

But once replaying has been strongly established, it may then serve to increase the individual’s isolation. The old person who replays selected memories has often stepped, at least temporarily, out of the conventional time framework. Time has already served its purpose. It has brought forth many experiences from which the individual chooses a few that have particular significance. The distinction between “recently” and “long ago” is of little consequence.

Occasional replaying may be a comfort and consolation to the old person. It is most likely to occur when his environment offers little human nourishment and where mental functioning has been somewhat impaired; these two themselves often seem to be related. A moderate devotion to replaying can alert us to the old person’s need for more stimulation and sharing. The person who dwells persistently in the past may be suffering from marked mental impairment, or having difficulty in facing his future, or both.

There is no age restriction on turning to the past for help to meet challenges of the present and future. Some of the apparent overuse of the past, shown by certain old people, is related to their reduced opportunity for sharing experiences with others, as well as to reduced stimulation and opportunity in the present environment.

Despite this concern with the past, the future is of interest to many old people, just as the past is to many of their juniors.

Research with adults indicates that the most typical daydreams center around practical tasks and challenges, and this is as true of old as of young and middle-aged people.

The concept of replaying can also play an important function in establishing a genealogical history for the descendants who may be unaware of the life experiences and accomplishments of their elders.

Quotable Quote: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” – Anonymous
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