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UNH study: People make their most important memories by age 25

Union Leader Correspondent

February 24. 2014 5:32PM
Marion Kent, 84, reflects on her life while sitting in her room at the Rockingham County Nursing Home in Brentwood. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

Bertha Carr will never forget that field day fireworks show at Berwick Academy nearly 80 years ago.

She was 13 at the time, and her sister introduced her to a young man named George.

"I took quite a liking to him. We got along very well," recalled the 92-year-old Carr, a resident of the Rockingham County Nursing Home who grew up in South Berwick, Maine, and later moved to Lee.

Carr told her girlfriend that someday she would marry George.

They watched the fireworks together, but her parents said she was too young to date.

She saw George again when she was 15. He was sitting by a window at the post office.

"I said, 'Well hello, George.' He said, 'Well hi, I haven't seen you for a long time.' I said, 'No, I haven't seen you for a long time.'"

They fell in love, married two years later and started their family when she was 18.

Getting that job in a convalescent home to pay for her education at Berwick Academy, meeting George, having children and miscarrying twin girls are memories that shaped Carr's life.

They happened early in her life, and according to a new study by researchers at the University of New Hampshire, it seems people experience the most important memories of their lives by the time they reach age 25.

The study appearing in the journal "Memory" and titled, "The reminiscence bump in older adults' life story transitions," involved collecting life stories from 34 residents of an active retirement community between the ages of 59 and 92. The participants were asked to share their life stories in 30 minutes.

Researchers reported finding a "reminiscence bump" between ages 17 and 24, when many people defined chapters of their life story beginning and ending. According to researchers, a "reminiscence bump" is a period of time between the ages of 15 and 30 when people tend to recall good and bad memories, expected and unexpected.

Life transitions, such as marriage and children, influenced their memories and came early in life.

"When people look back over their lives and recount their most important memories, most divide their life stories into chapters defined by important moments that are universal for many: a physical move, attending college, a first job, marriage, military experience and having children," said Kristina Steiner, a doctoral student in psychology at UNH and the study's lead researcher.

According to Steiner, many studies have found that when adults reflect on their memories they call many more events that happened between the ages of 15 to 30.

"I wanted to know why this might be. Why don't adults report more memories from the ages of 30 to 70? What is it about the ages of 15 to 30 that make them so much more memorable?" Steiner asked.

When she looks back on her life, Marion Kent, 84, recalls marrying and having her first child at 23. Raising her two children was an important part of her life, but she has many fond memories from her days spent working in real estate development in the Pocono Mountains.

"When they grew up, I kind of spread my wings. I got into politics, I got into real estate and I really enjoyed that. My life was more interesting when I did work outside in the office. There were so many people around me, and I just had a different kind of life," said Kent, who spent her life in New Jersey before becoming a resident of the Rockingham County Nursing Home six years ago.

Ninety-year-old Reta Lamb said she made the most memories while growing up with her parents and siblings.

"There were six girls and one boy. Our life together was absolutely beautiful," said Lamb, another nursing home resident who lived in Holton, Maine, before moving to Danville when she was in the third-grade and later to the home on 38 acres that her father bought in East Kingston when she was in high school.

Her memories were also influenced by her four years in the Navy during World War II. She joined the Navy as a public information officer when she was 18.

"I loved it. I was stationed in Indian Head, Md., and Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon," said Lamb, who married Ray Lamb, the man she met when they were kids in school, after the Navy, and then had two boys.

Some people say they feel their most important moments came later in life.

Dannielle Genovese, 69, of Kingston, said she agrees with the findings of the UNH study, but feels there are exceptions.

"As I look back on my life, I think there is a preponderance of events between age 18 and 24. However, there were also several life-changing events when I was 29, 40 and 50," she said.

Genovese said she's been "reinventing" herself through career changes.

Like Genovese, Diana Zangari, 70, of Seabrook, said she feels some of her most memorable times were between ages 25 and 60.

Zangari, who had children after 25, made a life-changing decision at 49 and feels she became more confident and self-sufficient at 50.

"And I bought my first car on my own credit at 50. And my credit score is the highest you can get, all on my own after age 50," she said.

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