The old adage “Use it or lose it” is very appropriate when it comes to aging. Study after study has demonstrated the absolute necessity for physical, social and mental stimulation at all ages but particularly in childhood and old age.
The routines Elders often develop to make their lives easier, can also decrease their interest in the world around them, and cut off their creativity. In addition, because of limited mobility and chronic health conditions, Elders are sometimes deprived of social contact and external stimulation, qualities which in the past had made their lives meaningful.
Bill Thomas, M.D., Harvard graduate and gerontologist identifies Three Plagues of Old Age: boredom, helplessness and loneliness. These three plagues are present whether people stay in their own homes or move to facilities. This situation is compounded when an Elder has dementia.
Sands of Time activities are purposefully designed to decrease feelings of boredom, helplessness and loneliness by working with Elders to help them discover their internal resources. Each of the following activities are designed to open a portal where Elders can learn about their inner terrain and befriend the many thoughts, emotions, impulses, images and sensations that arise. In this way, the gifts of aging unfold as we follow Socrates’ injunction to “Know Thyself”.
- Reading, discussing and, if so moved, writing poetry;
- Examining Elder’s stories to learn about psychological and spiritual tasks in late life;
- Exploring dreams for their meaning;
- Learning to use the quiet of this time creatively through meditation, visualization or art;
- Discussing the experience of growing old;
- Writing ethical wills to identify values and non-material legacies;
- Spending time out of doors together;
- Listening to music and encouraging body movement.
For Elders who spend the majority of their time at home, even when they have a paid Caregiver, there is exposure to Thomas’s Three Plagues. Often the paid Caregiver is much younger, does not speak their language well, is from a different culture and does not have the training or skill to provide the kind of meaningful conversation and engagement that is so necessary at this time of life. Family members are generally overwhelmed with the logistics of arranging and managing the many aspects of care while also attending to their own needs. Frequently they also have their own family. The elder often does not want to be a ‘burden’ and, therefore, does not confide what s/he feels on a day-to-day basis. Such a situation can lead to loss of cognitive and social skills and result in less than optimal psychological and spiritual health.
One attitudinal change that can result from stimulating engagement is the confidence that older adults continue to have the capacity to grow and develop despite their age or infirmity. There is a growing body of research that documents the ability of elders to adapt, learn new things, contribute to the common good and enjoy their lives up to their deaths (see especially Gene Cohen, M.D., PhD.). This is so even for elders who are frail and forgetful. When elders have access to an environment that is personally nurturing and though-provoking, they are more likely to meet daily life with a sense of ease. Their family caregiver in turn can feel a sense of relief knowing that their loved one’s final life chapter has purpose and meaning.
Many years ago the psychiatrist C. G. Jung said:
“The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only its meaning and purpose are different. What youth found and must find outside, those of life’s afternoon must find within.”
Despite Jung’s insight, only a minority of people have seriously reflected on what his wisdom might mean for the later years. As Boomers enter the aging arena in great numbers, there is an increasing need for unpacking the possibilities of interior growth in elderhood.
The first half of life is dedicated by necessity to outer exploration but the second is reserved for that other territory that in the words of T.S. Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”
Sands of Time activities are designed to stimulate cognitive, emotional and spiritual experiences, not only at the time, but after the session is over.
For information on Gene Cohen, MD, PhD see:
For information on Bill Thomas, MD see:
For information on C. G. Jung, MD, Stages of Life see:
and Modern Man in Search of a Soul by C. G. Jung