Depression and Repressed Memories in the Aged

Depression may be caused by Repressed Memories in the Aged. Deprogramming repressed memories through encouragement counselling and using certain kinds of cognitive skills and abilities.

Repressed memories of past life experience can lead to depression in the aging population, according to a professor at Kansas State University.

Leon Rappaport, professor of psychology at K-State, said sometimes, in later life, a memory of a person or event from years earlier can trigger feelings of guilt, remorse or anxiety and lead to depression.

“Memories come back from occasions when the person may have done something they regret or have reasons for feelings of guilt,” Rappaport said. “Frequently, this sort of thing may occur when people recall remote events or they are reminded of times when they may have behaved badly.”

The recollection of repressed memories from years past is, according to Rappaport, caused by the deterioration of brain function as a result of the loss of neurons in the brain. This causes a shift in the ability to remember.

“Things that happened recently are easily forgotten and confused, but there are vivid images and memories of things that may have happened 50 or 60 years earlier,” Rappaport said. “Cognitive control tends to deteriorate somewhat, and the consequence is that you don’t get as much effective repression as earlier on.”

Most often, Rappaport said these memories come in the form of a dream. Their causes, however, can vary greatly according to the individual.

“Sometimes it is brought on by them seeing someone that reminds them of someone else they knew long ago,” Rappaport said. “Very frequently, it’s family related.”

Rappaport said the confusion of present with past events, or confabulation, often can trigger the recollection of repressed memories. Even this, however, can take different forms.

“Sometimes, an older person may meet someone new and confuse that person with someone they knew 50 years ago or they may see a film with actors who have been dead for a long time,” Rappaport said. “Sometimes, anything that comes along like that can trigger recollection.”

These conditions can be prevented and remedied through a number of different treatments. One way is through encouragement counselling.

“It is typically done to encourage the person to, not exactly relive, but to review their experiences,” Rappaport said. “Just by talking about it, you reduce the feelings of guilt or anxiety and help them accept that nobody’s perfect and everyone makes mistakes in life. They can forgive themselves.”

Another way Rappaport said depression brought on by recollection of repressed memories can be averted is through adherence to the old adage of “use it or lose it.” This includes keeping the mind sharp in abilities like mathematics and language, which help to maintain fit mental condition in later life.

“People who don’t use certain kinds of cognitive skills and abilities just lose that skill that they had,” Rappaport said. “Whereas if they keep up with whatever it is that they do with the abilities that they have, then those abilities tend to remain in pretty good shape.”

Another way this type of cognitive maintenance can be achieved is through new technology. Rappaport said e-mail offers many older people an avenue for new knowledge, challenges and communication with others.

“E-mail becomes a type of social stimulation, so there’s a lot of effort in that direction,” Rappaport said. “That gives people new knowledge and stuff to talk about and new content to communicate, and that encourages this sense of remaining up with the contemporary culture.”

Source: News release prepared by: Jeff Caldwell. For more information contact Rappaport at 785-532-0616 or e-mail at [email protected]. Used with permission.