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Life Review

A Brief History, End-of-life Review, Memoir As Life Review, Life Review As Oral HistoryUniversality of the life review, Conclusion

Life review is a progressive return to consciousness of memories and unresolved past conflicts for reevaluation and resolution. It is a normal, developmental task of the later years, a private process that differs with each individual. This evaluative process is believed to occur universally in all persons in the final years of their lives, although they may not be totally aware of it and may in part defend themselves against realizing its presence.

In late life, people have a particularly vivid imagination and memory for the past. Early life events are remembered with sudden and remarkable clarity, and people often experience a renewed ability to free-associate. A life review can provide new insights that result in the resolution of old issues, reconciliation with estranged loved ones, atonement for past mistakes, and integration of the past with the present. Life review can culminate in serenity and acceptance of the life one has lived. Elemental aspects of life, such as children, friendship, nature, humor, and human contact, often gain great significance as people identify the things they hold dear and minimize less important parts of their lives. The resolution of life conflicts may result in creative works, such as memoirs, art and music, or in a new interest in sharing their family histories.

However, the life review can be very painful for individuals who believe they have committed unforgivable acts, have led meaningless lives, or are unable to forgive others for perceived wrongs that may have been committed many years ago. In extreme cases, if a person is unable to resolve problems or accept them, terror, panic, and suicide can result. In cases where guilt, depression, and despair cannot be resolved, professional treatment is necessary.

A life review occurs spontaneously, or it can be structured. Structured life review is sometimes referred to as guided autobiography, and is conducted by an individual trained in psychotherapy. Life review can take many forms, among them autobiographical memory, which refers to memories of specific events that occurred in an individual's daily experience. Reminiscence, which is defined as the process of recollecting past experiences and events, is often used as a therapeutic tool. However, reminiscence is not considered to be a true life review because it does not require that the person evaluate the experience.

Life review has been called a Western phenomenon because of its focus on the individual. However, a number of research studies have been conducted around the world. Major programs of reminiscence and life reviews are carried out under the auspices of both national organizations and individuals in Japan and Singapore as well as in the United States and the United Kingdom. An International Society for Reminiscence and Life Review was established in 1995.

The life review concept has contributed to a better understanding of late-life and end-of-life development as well as development across the life span. It has helped demonstrate the therapeutic value of reminiscence for older people and helped eliminate prejudice against those who reminisce.



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RUBIN, D. C.; WETZLER, S. E.; and NEBES, R. B. "Autobiographical Memory Across the Life Span." In Autobiographical Memory. Edited by D. C. Rubin. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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