Memoir Writing’s Scientific Side

April 18, 2019 Deborah Wilbrink

Memoir Writing’s Scientific Side:

Reminiscence & Life Review

The work of the International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review (IIRLR)  brings science into the work of memoir writing. Watching their work allows putting the latest research into play with my ghostwriting and editing, helping others reach and save their memories. The IIRLR provides facts and data that raise awareness of the benefits of memoir. The International Institute for Reminiscence and Life Review is a program in the Health and Human Issues division of the Center for Continuing Education/Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Their focus is research and education, and they offer certified training in memory work.

It’s always inspiring and refreshing to meet other enthusiasts, passionate people working in one’s field. At the 2018 IIRLR Conference in Boston, I heard papers read and direct experience told by colleagues working with people’s memories: health professionals, psychologists, counselors, and researchers. All felt they were breaking ground. Studies with memory are difficult – duh! There are so many variables!

Takeaways from the conference:

  • Almost everyone who works with elders feels a calling to do so.
  • It’s possible to help a willing person come to terms with their life and its meaning through a few pointed questions.
  • Pain is not the same as suffering, and true communication often eases suffering.
  • Dramatic play with memory can be fun and revealing for an ensemble group!
  • Diverse cultures need specific understandings during memory work.

Circle of Life quilt by Kathleen Van Orsdel shows a group of life story-tellers. Used by permission in Time to Tell by Deborah Wilbrink.


The small cadre of researchers working in the area of memory has greatly expanded in recent years. Stay on top of the research by reading their journal, International Journal of Reminiscence and Life Review (IJRLR). The mission of the IILRV to further define and develop the interdisciplinary field of reminiscence and life review through discussion and collaboration in practice, research, education, volunteer and individual applications across the lifespan. Doing my part for education, I offer popular presentations, among them The Benefits of Life Story, which teaches about personal history and life review theory (presented for CEU credit at the Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law ‘s annual Time Out Workshop) and recently, my article published for Nashville Health and Wellness Magazine on the 4 Holistic Health Benefits of Writing Memoir. Of course, there are many more benefits, and there’s always more to learn as we review our lives.

European Connections

This year Dublin hosts the European Reminiscence Network gathering of speakers in the field of active memory, so grab your green and go! May 1-3 2019 coincides with the national cultural festival of free arts, music, and theater performances across Ireland, so there is a built-in bonus! If you are interested in  the work of memoir or memory care, there is much to learn from this gathering of peers who take their work very seriously–and know how to have fun, too!

-Deborah Wilbrink,

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“The Best Book is Your Own Story.”
Deborah Wilbrink

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