A comparison of three types of autobiographical memories in old-old age: First memories, pivotal memories and traumatic memories

Jiska Cohen-Mansfield*, Dov Shmotkin, Nitza Eyal, Yael Reichental, Haim Hazan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: Autobiographical memory enables us to construct a personal narrative through which we identify ourselves. Especially important are memories of formative events. Objective: This study describes autobiographical memories of people who have reached old-old age (85 years and above), studying 3 types of memories of particular impact on identity and adaptation: first memories, pivotal memories and traumatic memories. In this paper, we examine the content, characteristic themes and environments, and structural characteristics of each of the 3 types of memory. Methods: The participants were 26 persons from a larger longitudinal study with an average age of 91 years; half were men and the other half women. The study integrated qualitative and quantitative tools. An open-ended questionnaire included questions about the participants' life story as well as questions about the 3 types of memories. The responses were rated by 3 independent judges on dimensions of central themes and structural characteristics. Results: First memories had a more positive emotional tone, more references to characters from the participant's social circle, a stronger sense of group belonging, and a more narrative style than the other types of memories. Pivotal and traumatic memories were described as more personal than first memories. Conclusion: The 3 types of memories reflect different stages in life development, which together form a sense of identity. They present experiences from the past on select themes, which may assist in the complex task of coping with the difficulties and limitations that advanced old age presents. Future research should examine the functional role of those memories and whether they enable the old-old to support selfhood in the challenging period of last changes and losses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)564-573
Number of pages10
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • First memories
  • Formative memories
  • Identity
  • Old-old
  • Pivotal memories
  • Traumatic memories


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