What’s Wrong with Seniors Clinging to their Memories?


By Bob Kohut

I was having a rare dinner out with one of my sons the other night when I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation going on between a very elderly woman and her adult son at the next table.

The sum and substance of it all was that the woman kept talking about memories of events in the distant past and her son kept encouraging her to focus on the future.

Although my own mother has passed on I am still heavily involved in supporting an elderly Uncle and Aunt of mine, and this conversation unearthed a haunting memory of my own.

My mother lived alone in her beloved condominium up to the end, and one day several years before she died I walked in for a visit and found her mounting pictures on the wall of her bedroom.

She must have been working at it for some time because the wall was nearly filled with old pictures of her as a child and her mother in Europe and me and my brothers as children and the house in which she group up as well as the house in which I grew up and on and on.

She was alert enough back then to comprehend the puzzled look on my face so she proceeded to tell me why she was doing what she was doing.

I can still see her face clearly in my mind as she told with a pleasant smile that the older she got the more she liked to relive her memories of times gone by.  Every morning when she awoke, she gazed over the wall and drifted off into a reverie of pleasant memories.

My gut reaction was the same as the son I recently overheard in the restaurant.  Why is she clinging to memories of the past instead of looking to the future?

I’ve read some interesting things lately that, in all honesty, make me more than a little ashamed at how I could harbor such a callous sentiment.  What future?  What mountains did she have left to conquer?  What new challenges did she have to look forward to?  What new careers to seek out?

The world teaches us that dwelling on the past at the expense of planning for the future is not a healthy thing to do.  But I had never thought much about what kind of future my mother or my now rapidly aging Uncle and Aunt see for themselves.

It seems to me one of the biggest problems those of us who find ourselves in senior caregiver roles have is the fact we have no experience of what it’s like to be old.  When we are raising our children we have our own experience base of how we were raised and how we felt about what was going on around us.

But we have no idea what it’s like to grow old and wake up one morning and realize you have no reason to get out of bed.

I’d like you to think about that if you have an elderly loved one who seems to be obsessed with living in the past.  Although I never got into an argument with my mother over her picture wall, I sincerely regret I never sat down with her and joined her in reliving some of those cherished moments we shared together in earlier days.

If you still have the chance, why not rummage through your own collection of old family photos and share them with your elderly loved ones?