Douwe Draaisma is professor of history and theory of psychology, Heymans Chair, University of Groningen. He has written several internationally acclaimed books including Disturbances of the Mind and Why Life Speeds Up When You Get Older.
Those who are old can choose which option to follow: a negative narrative of decline, deterioration, and loss of vitality or a positive one where wisdom and ripeness of insight flourish. No matter which you choose, this is the longest stage of life. And in every survey, the top complaints include difficulties with prospective memory, such as recalling words and names. It's a familiar occurrence for most elders. As we step inside the door to a room full of people, we see a fellow we have known for five years. But as he approaches us, we cannot remember his name. At a get-together, people are talking about movies and when they ask you about your favorites for the year, you go blank and cannot recall a single title.
Draaisma offers his evaluation of the literature on memory training. He then moves on to look at reminiscences including "first times," insults and affronts, and incidents which lead us into great changes. In a chapter on "The Joy of Calling Up Memories," the author quotes Aristotle:
"[Elderly people] live by memory rather than by hope; for what is left to them of life is but little as compared with the long past; and hope is of the future, memory of the past. This again, is the cause of their loquacity; they are continually talking of the past, because they enjoy remembering it."
Draaisma notes that therapists working in residential homes for elderly people use photographs, music, or films as catalysts to spur early memories and bring to the surface healing emotions such as joy, wonder, and peace. The author devotes a chapter to the work of Oliver Sacks, the famous British writer and neurologist, and then presents an interview with him where he talks about the brain, memories, and autobiography.By melding science, psychology, and the engaging stories of elders dealing with memory, Draaisma makes a good case for nostalgia's value in the repertoire of human experiences.