“They want you to know who they really are inside of the old visage” - biographical storytelling as a methodological tool to explore emotional challenges in old age

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Background: Growing older is often associated with resilience, contentedness and inner growth. Older people however are also at risk of confronting unique emotional challenges as a result of varied ageing-related experiences. By employing a biographical lens, we aim to introduce storytelling as a methodological tool to more holistically explore older people’s emotional challenges and to improve their wellbeing. Methods: Building upon theoretical understandings about the narrative construction of identity across the life span, we draw upon a qualitative study about older people’s loneliness as an example to showcase the methodological value and feasibility of biographical storytelling. We aim to better understand the nuanced and sometimes painful emotional experiences that can be encountered alongside ageing. Results: Findings from the qualitative study we showcase, highlight that unique emotional pains and the (in)ability to deal with such in old age could be deeply rooted in older people’s earlier lives. These findings contextualise people’s emotional challenges and needs within their identity, as a narrative thread that links their past, present and expected future. As such, our example study shows that emotional challenges in old age are not only ageing-related, but can be more fundamentally connected to disruptions to the ongoing flow of narrative identity construction. Conclusion: The highly retrospective and reflexive nature of these findings illustrates the methodological merit of biographical storytelling. We argue that the impact of biographical storytelling can go further than both conventional semi-structured narrative interviews and existing interventional tools. Instead, it is a particularly useful research methodology to explore human experiences and needs in the unique context of ageing. This methodological development thus provides an insightful analytical lens to explore how older people’s earlier life experiences may be carried forward and confronted to shape their emotional stability in the present and future stages of their ageing lives. Beyond the methodological significance, we further demonstrate the benefits of empowering older people to reconstruct their ageing lives in the context of their biography.

Original languageEnglish
Article number386
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by a research grant (RE-ED1100) from Guild Living Ltd. The authors confirm that the funder played no role in the design, execution, analysis and interpretation of data, or writing of the study.


  • Ageing
  • Biography
  • Emotional challenges
  • Older people
  • Qualitative methods
  • Storytelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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