People who have fond memories of childhood, specifically their relationships with their parents, tend to have better health, less depression and fewer chronic illnesses as older adults, a study has found. According to the research published in the journal Health Psychology, memory plays a huge part in how we make sense of the world.
"There are a lot of different ways that our memories of the past can guide us," said William J Chopik, from Michigan State University in the US.
"We found that good memories seem to have a positive effect on health and well-being, possibly through the ways that they reduce stress or help us maintain healthy choices in life," said Chopik.
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Previous research has shown a positive relationship between good memories and good health in young adults, including higher quality of work and personal relationships, lower substance use, lower depression and fewer health problems, according to Chopik.
Researchers wanted to see how this would apply to older adults. Much of the existing research focused on mothers and rarely examined the role of fathers in child development.
They used data from of more than 22,000 participants. One study followed adults in their mid-40s for 18 years and while another followed adults 50 and over for six years.
The surveys included questions about perceptions of parental affection, overall health, chronic conditions and depressive symptoms.
Participants in both groups who reported remembering higher levels of affection from their mothers in early childhood experienced better physical health and fewer depressive symptoms later in life.
Those who reported memories with more support from their fathers also experienced fewer depressive symptoms, according to Chopik.
"The most surprising finding was that we thought the effects would fade over time because participants were trying to recall things that happened sometimes over 50 years ago," said Chopik.
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"One might expect childhood memories to matter less and less over time, but these memories still predicted better physical and mental health when people were in middle age and older adulthood," he added.
There was a stronger association in people who reported a more loving relationship with their mothers, noted Chopik, but that might change.