Bonn: It might seem quite natural for the elderly to often slip happily into reminiscence but living in the past could indicate dissatisfaction with the present, says psychologists.
This phenomenon becomes a problem when an elderly relative starts living completely in the past and ignores the present. While some might welcome a break from older relatives repeating boring old yarns, it is not a normal symptom of ageing.
People who are unhappy with their surroundings might find it easier to retreat into the past. Studies have shown that older people with a positive self-image and perception of others enjoy the present more.
Indeed, there are many reasons why the past is so important to many senior citizens.
"As one ages, one is more physically limited, not as mobile and has problems seeing and hearing," says Jochen Tenter, specialist in clinical geriatry.
For many, life becomes less exciting. Lacking stimulus, people tend to focus on their inner life. "They can rely on that. It is dependable and no one can take it away," explains Tenter.
Society also often contributes to the problem.
"Elderly people are often marginalized because they cannot participate in life as actively as young people," observes George Adler, director of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany.
"If older people are fully valued and taken seriously, then they go about their lives and the present day much more positively. Memories and old stories are not necessarily bad," states Ursula Lehr, gerontologist and honorary chairwoman of the Federal Working Group on Seniors' Organizations (BAGSO) in Bonn.
"Many people begin to take account of their lives as they get old, and that dredges up a lot of memories," explains Lehr. It only becomes problematic for children and grandchildren when the same stories are told over and over again and only a proactive approach will help.
"If you are really interested in the stories, ask for details. That makes it more interesting for the storyteller," suggests Tenter.
"A person repeats everything if he gets no feedback," explains Lehr. Instead, annoyed relatives should make it clear whether they already know the stories.
It would be better to say, "You have told me that so often already," advises Tenter.
Instead of living silently in the past, older people should seek contact with the younger generation. "Inter-generational contacts are advisable to put a stop to the past-oriented thinking," said Tenter. Additionally, it has been shown that contacts with unfamiliar people are also helpful.
"That way you get new impressions and maybe get to play a new role."
Psychologists and gerontologists also recommend that middle-aged people should be sure to maintain contacts and keep their spirits up. "That can mean games, dancing, sports or advanced crossword puzzles," recommends Tenter.
Further, Lehr says that elderly should keep themselves abreast of current affairs. "Old people should read a newspaper, watch the news, make dates and then discuss it all."
However, old stories should not be lost under any circumstances. "Young people should ask older people to write down their experiences and impressions," advises Lehr.
After all, telling old stories from old times is not just an expression of boredom or dissatisfaction.