Gifted Adults from an Elder’s Perspective

    We did not hear the word gifted as a child. We thought we were odd. Even as we age, it is difficult to say aloud, ‘I am a gifted adult.’ We realize the differences in our reasoning, but mostly in our feelings. When loved ones hurt, we feel physical pain. A breathtaking sunset brings tears to our eyes. We lie awake at night, wishing we could set things right in the world. We labor to internalize the wisdom of Candide to tend our own garden; and, when we do so, it is with an intensity that could ignite the universe.

 An Elder’s Perspective

   I wrote the words above shortly before my 70th year as part of a SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) initiative to share different perspectives on giftedness from different authors in the field. Five years later, much has happened in my life (an only grandchild, struggle with cancer, a new career). I look back on my words, which remain a confirmation that it is the reality of being a gifted adult that brings a heightened intensity to the perspective and the courage we draw upon to face life’s maladies and victories. Do you feel that way too?

    My friend and mentor, Annemarie Roeper, never ceased to remind us of emotional giftedness as the heart of this psychological construct that we call gifted. When we performed qualitative assessments together, she consistently looked for the emotional richness of the child, which she believed was the key to the individual’s level of giftedness. The deeper and more intense the emotional facets, the more gifted the child.

    In childhood we note that the complexity of intellect in gifted children is most often accompanied by a depth and intensity of emotions. When I entered the field as a resource teacher for gifted students in the early 1980’s, it was commonly believed by parents and educators that individuals grow out of giftedness. In the middle or high school years, most schools melded previously identified gifted students with other highly functioning students in honors or Advanced Placement programs. I considered the administrators in our school district as visionary when they created a position for a resource teacher for grades seven through twelve intending that the gifted receive qualitatively different learning experiences. More recently, we are expanding the literature in the field to include gifted adults, and yes, even gifted elders. Giftedness is a lifelong phenomenon.

They Come Back

    A few days ago, my five year-old grandchild fell asleep in my arms while I was reading to him – the first time this has happened in a long while as he no longer naps on a regular basis. I treasured that moment with an intensity that I still feel physically as a warmth in my chest that then spreads through the body. Moreover, I will continue to treasure that sweet experience as I tuck it into my mental memory box of life’s special moments

    The intensity I felt both physically and emotionally as I sat with a sleeping child reminds me that they come back. “They Come Back: Overexcitabilities in Older Adults,”  was the title of a presentation a colleague and I gave on intensities in later adulthood several years ago. In the talk, we shared our belief that as we enter adulthood, many gifted individuals may develop filters, such as coping skills, that soften our intensities and help us to navigate a world in which our intensities are not understood. As we age, it is my experience and my research is demonstrating, the filters dissolve and we begin to experience intensities with a renewed vigor. 

I Do What I Am

    I recently heard a quote, attributed to Freud, “I do what I am,” which resonated strongly in my thinking.  “Yes!” I told self, “That is my professional trajectory as well.” In my thirties, when I began the journey of giftedness in education, I studied, wrote, and presented on best educational practices for gifted students. In my forties, I progressed into a doctoral program in educational psychology with a specialization in giftedness and my studies opened my mind to my own giftedness. Thus, my dissertation focused on gifted females. In my fifties and sixties I was a college professor who wrote and taught about the psychology of the gifted. Now, in my seventies, I study and advocate for gifted elders. I do what I am.

Things I wish I knew back then

In my next post, we will continue to explore gifted elderhood as part of the next Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop, Things I wish I knew back then.

References:

Navan, J. (2013). 100 Words of Wisdom: Joy Navan. 

Photo: Post by Dagmar Luhringova on Flickr (Public Domain).

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This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page May 2018 Blog Hop on Gifted Adults. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the  decades. You can see blogs of others here.

Finding Sweet Dreams in Elderhood

In early 2016, I wrote a pair of blog posts about the need for healthy sleep in gifted elders. Just like gifted children and adolescents, gifted adults and elders can experience frequent difficulty both falling asleep or sustaining sleep through the night. Gifted elders may experience other difficulties as well, due to cognitive changes in elderhood or for other reasons.

In this blog, part of the Hoagies Blog Hop “Sweet Dreams,” I would like to review some of my past findings as well as offer suggestions to elders and their caretakers for enhancing the quality of sleep. Additionally,  I invite my readers to post effective techniques that they find enhance their sleep habits as well.

Sundowner’s, or sundowning, is a syndrome which manifests itself in many individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related diseases. Changes in light at the end of the day may produce behaviors such as agitation and restlessness, anxiety, fear, or anger. Similarly, adults, and elder adults in particular, may present with sleep difficulties. Research demonstrates that seven of ten older adults have sleep disturbances or sleep disorders. Due to the intensities of giftedness, I believe that the statistic is higher with gifted elders due to their intensities.

As with sundowning, light and how our brains process light is often connected to problems falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep. Receiving different types of light at different times during the day or evening can support or disrupt the circadian rhythms that control our sleep drive. Circadian rhythms are necessary for promoting healthy sleep-wake cycles.

When the natural rhythms are upset, we have trouble initiating, maintaining, and waking from sleep. Certain cells in the retina are most responsive to bluish-white light. This is the form of light that suppresses the production of melatonin. Lower levels of melatonin promote  wakefulness. With the onset of the dark at nighttime, melatonin production increases and we are more sleepy.

Researchers at the Light and Health Center of Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a light table that emits bluish-white light (i.e., daytime type) and they investigated its use in residential care facilities for the elderly. Residents gathered around the light table at meals and could sit around the table anytime between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. After use of the table over time, caregivers recorded a 10% increase in sleep efficiency  among residents who used it. Sleep efficiency is a calculation that represents the ratio of time in bed to time spent sleeping. The less time we take falling asleep and the more time we stay asleep, the better our sleep efficiency.

In addition to sleep efficiency, elders who regularly used light tables displayed a substantial decrease in depressive symptoms and agitation. Thus, it is important that our elders receive as much natural daylight as possible during the day, especially in the winter months. In addition, it is vital that at night we begin to eliminate unhealthy sources of light for two or more hours before bedtime.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is marked by fatigue and sleep issues. As an individual who has learned to manage fibromyalgia for four decades, I have developed what I term “sleep rituals” to help alleviate the sleep problems that are inherent with the disorder. The following are some of the techniques and rituals that I have found are helpful for falling asleep and enhancing beneficial, sound sleep.

  • Reduce screen time in front of television and electronics in the evenings for at least two hours before bedtime. These devices emit bluish-white light, which promote wakefulness rather than sleepiness.
  • Dim the lights at night a few hours before turning in for the night. This produces a calm, soothing environment for the gifted elder.
  • If the older adult needs some light when getting up during the night, use a soft nightlight placed at a strategic spot to assist in navigating the dark. Some residential facilities now use softly lighted door frames, rather than bright hallway lights. Soft lights guide residents safely without encouraging wakefulness.
  • Find an activity helps the gifted elder wind down at the end of the day. It may be reading with a small reading light, sketching, knitting, doing a jigsaw or word puzzle that is not overly challenging, or listening to relaxing music. Any type of quiet activity that can be developed into a nighttime ritual will serve as a trigger, telling one that it is time for the mind and body to prepare for sleep.
  • Sounds from Nature – ocean waves, rain, ripples from a stream – are relaxing and useful as sleep aids. One of the treasured gifts from a son who understands my sleep difficulties is a sleep sound machine that generates these and other natural sounds.
  • Some find aromatherapy helpful. Lavender, chamomile, bergamot, and sandalwood are some scents that come to mind. A few drops of one of these essential oils on a cotton ball placed near one’s pillow may be beneficial.
  • Deep breathing, muscle relaxation, or guided imagery may be useful in falling asleep. I have a number of scenarios of favorite places that I have visited – a restful beach, camping in the mountains,  and others, that I use as guided imagery visualizations to relax and prepare me for sleep.
  • Sleep experts tell us to try to go to sleep and to awaken at the same time every day. This sets up our natural circadian rhythm. Also, if a nap is needed during the day, limit it to a fifteen minute or so power nap in the early afternoon. 
  • Exercise during the day is important, but it also vital that we exercise early enough during the day to allow our bodies to cool down from exercise into a more sleep receptive state. A good friend and colleague, one of the most gifted individuals I know, is a runner. He found as he started to age that he had to switch the time of his afternoon  runs to earlier in the day in order not to interfere with his sleep at night.

These are just a few of the sleep techniques I have found that work for me and for others. What are some strategies that promote your healthy sleep?

Sleep tight!

Photo: Riku Lu, Dream Dandelion on Flickr, 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page February 2018 Blog Hop on Sweet Dreams. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.

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My ~ Much Better Late ~ New Year

My ~Much Better Late ~New Year

Tomorrow, January 6, 2018, is my New Year’s celebration. Despite the fact that my family and friends celebrated on January 1, tomorrow marks the beginning of a brand new phase of my life, post-cancer. You see last year, 2017, was not one of my better years. In May, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In June, I had a lumpectomy, followed by months of chemotherapy, four infusions every three weeks, beginning in August and ending in late October. Subsequently, in mid-November, I began radiation – 34 treatments – which end today.  I realize that most of my online friends and many friends who live at a distance were unaware of these happenings because I chose to share only with family and a few friends. Readers and friends would have no knowledge of my situation unless they saw me with my chemo head covering or during the weak and difficult weeks after an infusion. So this is not only my New Year’s celebration, it is also my coming out party. Thus, as it is a tradition to make resolutions at the beginning of a new year, I would like to share my own.

Firstly, I will continue to savor and to celebrate the astonishing miracle that is life, along with the exhilarating  recognition that through life we are all connected to the ever-creative spirit of the universe. Some of us choose to call that spirit, that prime mover, Creator God. As do I. Along with the cancer, I have been blessed with grace and gratitude for an intense awareness of my connection with our creator. It is a connection that wrapped me in love during some of the darkest moments of chemo and  through the most painful days that visited me during radiation as the treatments progressed. Even with the deep depression that I felt in the depths of the inky, black, fog of non-feeling that would set in within a few days after each chemo infusion, I could feel that I was not fighting alone and that my suffering was shared. It was clear that my task was to transform suffering into an affirmation of life. Perhaps my readers on Facebook noticed that I endeavored to make nearly all my posts affirm the higher values of love, justice, and peace. In summary, I have a renewed reverence for the divine and the universe achieved through the lens of faith.

My second resolution is to never let go of the gratitude and the joy that I feel as I walk into the future. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the support of family and friends during the past eight months. Without my strong and loving husband, I am sure I would not have emerged from the treatments with the success I feel at being “bent, but never broken” (his words). Along with my joy is an understanding that I am tasked with helping others to experience joy as well. Thus, though a shy person, I find it so much easier to smile and greet those that I meet. I feel the bubbling of joy in my throat when I FaceTime with our grandson or talk to loved ones. I have rediscovered my singing voice. Even though it was once very good and its quality has deteriorated, I belt out the words and the melodies with gusto. I find myself breaking into song for the slightest reason.

The third and last resolution I share stems from my thoughts as I debated whether to undergo chemotherapy or not. You see, I had the choice of refusing it. My tumor was Stage 1 with no lymph nodes affected. Usually, those findings require only surgery followed by radiation. However, because of the type of tumor it was, it was determined that I was at high risk of recurrence and it was recommended that I undergo both chemo and radiation. My age, plus other medical conditions were factors that could have swayed me not to endure chemotherapy. However,  phrases that kept popping into my head were, “My dear husband and my cherished sons are not ready to play  by themselves yet,”  and, “I need time to be sure my spirit is in the right place.” These thoughts became blessings throughout the process!

In response to my decision to proceed with the full protocol of chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone blocker, I began to simplify, to cherish each minute with my loved ones, and to organize our lives in a way that, when we do pass, our children will not be left with chaos. I’m not there yet, but will continue to work toward that goal. As for my spiritual being, the  meditation and devotion time that my husband and I spend together each morning has a whole new dimension for me. As I shared earlier, I am much more keenly aware of being connected and blessed and spend more time in gratitude throughout the day. In many ways, my name – Joy – has become my being for the first time in a long time.

Happy New Year!

* Photo – “Ribbon of Hope” by Maf04. On Flickr, Creative Commons, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Finding Sanctuary

Belintash Sanctuary*

    I am sitting beside a pool at a southern resort. Surrounding me are the sounds of children’s voices, country music, quiet ripples, and the more insistent splashing of water. I am in sanctuary.  The children’s voices, country music, and splashing of water do not distract and the ripples serve as a soft accompaniment to my meditation. Sanctuary is a place I seek more often as I age. Sanctuary is a space that, in my opinion, is a right of all gifted elders.

    Sanctuary most often connotes a sheltered, protected place. In my mind it is not necessarily a physical place, rather it is the placid inner space in which we rearrange the furniture of our mind in such a way that we create harmony and quietude.  Terry Hershey, in his book, Sanctuary: Creating a Space for Grace in Your Life, wrote that finding sanctuary is intentional. It is a time when we search for the sacred in the ordinary; in Hershey’ words, “refilling of the chalice of being with spirit.” 

    The lives of gifted elders are often filled with the directives of others, telling us to eat well, to take it easy, not to worry. In addition, for some gifted elders as they age, cognitive changes may cause anxiety as they struggle to maintain an optimum level of functioning. Constant noise in the residential care environment also contributes to difficulty in finding one’s healing balance. These factors and others highlight the need for gifted elders to find the restorative benefits that sanctuary offers.

   Where do I find sanctuary as a gifted elder? First and foremost I find any natural setting allows me to quiet my mind, gather my thoughts, and engage in soul care.  There are several favorite spots for my reverie, our front porch or a deck overlooking water, a bench in a clearing in our local arboretum, or walking along a beach. I am sure that you, my reader, can add other perfect spaces to the list.

    However, even when I have no access to the natural world, sanctuary is an intentional choice I find I need to make often, and more so as I age. It is there that I can sort out the realities of aging and process the losses of friends and family as well as the physical and mental losses that aging brings. In sanctuary I can learn to accept the “never-agains” along with the gifts of elderhood. I make peace with myself and with the world.

Where do you find Sanctuary?

Reference:

Hershey, T. (2015). Sanctuary: creating a space for grace in your life. Chicago, IL: Loyola Press.

*Photo by Filip Stoyanov, Belintash Sanctuary  on Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page September 2017 Blog Hop on Philosophical/Spiritual Anxiety. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted  Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.

Gifted Elders ~ Resilience

Previous posts addressed reverence, gratitude, and other Be-Attitudes of gifted elders. In this post, I chose to deliberate a crucial construct and posture that enhances the lives of gifted elders–resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back in the face of difficulties. Picture a rubber band in its resting state. That can be a metaphor for the gifted elder as she addresses everyday needs, engaging in problem solving and future planning. Now imagine the rubber band being stretched to the point of breaking. The metaphor changes and we see a gifted elder being stretched to his limit by the phenomena that accompany aging. A few examples of the factors that can stress older adults are sleep difficulties, the aches and pains of aging muscles and joints, financial concerns, the loss of friends and loved ones, and perhaps terminal disease. 

At this point in our example, if one end of the rubber band is released, it snaps back into its original state. However, to picture this snapping back in our gifted elders may not be the best scenario in the face of stress; because trauma followed by a rapid return to status quo without processing the depth of the cognitive disruption may create conditions for acute or long term stress. Thus, contrary to a rapid release of difficulty, resilience in my view is more a matter of using one’s coping strengths to facilitate an easing of stress, creative problem solving, and the recovery of a perspective of inner strength. Edwards, Hall, and Zautra (2015) wrote that,  “Resilience thinking allows older adults to accept the wear and tear of aging, while also dealing with problems and crises – like losing a loved one, spousal caregiving, or acquiring a disability – in ways that leave them feeling stronger than they would have been if they had not encountered those crises. In resilience thinking, failure leads to growth” (p 1). 

What does resilience look like in the gifted elder?  Resilience is my brilliant ninety year-old friend who, despite loss, frailty and pain, continues to review his important body of work, making sure that colleagues have the needed notes and analyses in their hands. Resilience is my friend reeling from a life of coping with trauma, a university student in her sixties, who is of creating an affordable and sustainable residential living community for creative elders. Resilience is a health provider who, while healing from traumatic illness and surgery, spends hours “off the clock” supporting and allaying the fears of patients. These are just a few examples of strength and coping that I witness every day in our gifted elders.

What are ways to foster resilience?  Edwards and colleagues suggested that several characteristics and behaviors foster resilience in elders, including optimism, effective coping, personal connections, a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, and a healthy diet/active lifestyle. I concur that all of these factors are important to building resilience in my observations. In addition, gratitude, mindfulness, the opportunity to continue creative productivity, and a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature are other aspects that I would mention as a result of my research and writing on gifted elders. 

Returning to the metaphor of the rubber band, the resilient gifted elder is one who stretches herself in response to stressful life events, always having within the resources to gently relax, return to center, and regain a sense of awe and peace.

Reference: Edwards, E. S., Hall, J., & Zautra, A. (2015). Resilience in Aging. Elder Care: A Resource for Interprofessional Providers. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/kDYJEQ.

Image: Rubber Band  Ball, by Michael Thompson on Flickr, 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page August 2017 Blog Hop on Elder Gifted Issues. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.

A Winter’s Night

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Dear Readers,

   As I write this note, we are just days away from the winter solstice. This winter and the spring to follow will be times of creative productivity in which I will be completing a manuscript that hopefully will become a published book in late 2017 or early 2018. It is because of this obligation that you have not seen recent posts. As well, throughout the winter I will not be posting here on a regular basis. I hope that you, my readers, will bear with me throughout my absence. Know that, even as I write my book, I will be thinking of new ideas to include here in the future. 

   In the meantime, I wish you all lives filled with love and creative productivity throughout these months and beyond. May the still, quiet beauty of a winter’s night be your inspiration, your joy, your peace! 

Abundant blessings, 

Joy

Photo: Campus scape winter 2011. hu album on Flickr (https://goo.gl/aPzHLx).  (CC BY 2.0)

The Fifth Be-Attitude of Gifted Elders ~ Nurture Your Poetic Soul, Emotional Intelligence, a Request

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The past summer and early fall was a grace-filled time for me. Not only was I gifted with several weeks to spend with our treasured grandson; additionally, I had the chance to re-connect with some very dear friends from years ago. The lives of the six members of their family life are interwoven with mine into cherished memories – as students, as friends, as participants in our wedding. After a lovely, fall lunch in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York with the oldest daughter, she shared with me the poem below by Mary Oliver.

Mindful

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

     I confess that I have not been nurturing my poetic soul much lately. I have not spent the time lost in words, or nature, or images. It takes the jarring of lines such as those above to bring me back to the hunger for poetry that needs to be satisfied in order to restore my balance. Other paths to nourishing our poetic souls are found in music, in art, in any of the creative worlds, either natural or crafted by humans. In gratitude for the student who brought me back, I offer this as the fifth be-attitude of gifted elders – nurture your poetic soul. 

What about you? Do you feel as I do? How many times do we stop in the middle of a crowd, where we perceive the light resting softly on a branch, a blossom, or a sculpture? How often do we listen to the feelings forming words inside us that create the images and metaphors that describe the awe that we feel as a result of what we behold? When do we take the time to sit in the warmth of the waning autumn sun with the lines of our favorite poet before us? If you are held in the grasp of the present business of our lives – as am I, probably not often enough.

     The theme for this month’s Hoagies Gifted Blog Hop is Emotional Intelligence, defined by Mayer and Salovey (1997, p. 5) as, ” the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”  In my experience, poetry is a direct conduit to the depths of our emotions and to my intellectual growth. This may not be true for all, since individuals have different strengths and therefore, I believe that we each access our emotions in different ways – through our hands, through our ears, through our other senses, through other media, and in other ways.

That brings me to the request I have for you, my readers. I am interested in learning how gifted elders nourish their poetic soul and access their emotional intelligence. Would you share your stories with me? They can be your own or stories of others, elders who you have known. Please feel free to write them here by attaching a comment, or send me a personal message on Facebook (Navan Gifted). I will not share your words without your consent and all stories will remain anonymous. Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing!

References:

Oliver, M. (2005). Mindful. In Why I wake early. Boston MA: Beacon Press.

Mayer, J. D. & Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence?  In P. Salovey & D.J. Sluyter (Eds.) Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Educational implications (pp. 2-31).  New York: Basic Books.

Photo credit: Poetry, Riccardo Cupinni, on Flicker, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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 This blog post is a part of the November Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. Read more about Gifted and Community by clicking on the link above.