Elders with dementia continue to work through present and past impasses and experiences despite their apparent “loss of self” and ability to communicate. I discovered this as I researched using Sandplay with Elders who have dementia for my Masters thesis. Sand scenes provide an opportunity to express in concrete form present day feelings, memories and issues in our lives that have not yet been resolved. The ability to express these feelings allows us to release tension and gain balance. The result can alter day-to-day behavior and experience for the better. In some cases, this can happen after only one session; other cases require more exposure. Sand scenes can yield valuable information to the caregiver about critical mental and emotional states that directly impact the Elder’s quality of life. At the present time, there is no other service in the Bay Area which offers consistent Sandplay with Elders.
For caregivers, creating a sandplay can be a delightful and revelatory experience. Sandplay has the power to capture the recesses of our heart and bring these feelings to our consciousness. This gives us the awareness to make healthy choices for ourselves and our loved one.
Sandplay came into being through the ingenuity and inspiration of Margaret Lowenfeld, a British pediatrician, who founded one of the first psychological clinics for children in 1928. While searching for a method that would allow children to communicate their feelings, Lowenfeld remembered reading the book Floor Games by H.G. Wells. In this book, Wells describes how he and his sons created worlds on the living room floor using small miniatures and other objects. This memory inspired Lowenfeld to collect small objects of every kind for the children to use on the floor in their visits to her clinic. Later, she added a box of sand. Initially known as The World because of the worlds the children created, in 1929, Lowenfeld named her method World Technique. This method allowed the children to communicate their emotional states which, in turn, allowed Lowenfeld to understand these states better and help the children develop through them.
In 1954, Dora Kalff, a child therapist studying with C. G. Jung, attended a lecture given by Lowenfeld in Zurich. She was captivated by Lowenfeld’s description of World Technique and, in 1956, she undertook training with Lowenfeld in London. Kalff brought World Technique into Jungian psychology and changed its name to Sandplay to differentiate her perspective from Lowenfelds’. From her Jungian orientation, Kalff felt that sandplay reached beyond the personal world to the universal and symbolic. She also felt that the method held healing power because it facilitated a connection between the personal ego and the transcendent Self. By universalizing the personal world and incorporating a transcendent dimension, Kalff added a deeper level of significance to what occurs in sandplay. She introduced the sacred.
It is widely accepted in psychology that human development frequently gets truncated at an early age. Kalff and Jungians attribute this to a separation of the ego from Self. If the division is not healed by the time one reaches old age, this split can come to the fore. Because there is less distraction in the later years, emotional states that have not been adequately addressed can wreak havoc in an elders’ psychic equilibrium. Couple this with the many challenges and losses attendant to aging, and it is understandable why so many elders succumb to depression and anxiety. At the same time, old age presents the quintessential opportunity to redress earlier unsatisfactory experiences, even for those with a diagnosis of dementia.
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