Gifted Eldercare Comes of Age: Part 4
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed.”
~Albert Einstein, Living Philosophies
No matter what our beliefs, we all encounter what my friend and mentor, Annemarie Roeper, termed “the mystery.” It might be the sense of wonder we felt as a child the first time we saw a star-filled summer night sky. For some perhaps, the birth of a child. For others, the overwhelming aesthetic wonders of a Mozart symphony, or a painting by Van Gogh or da Vinci. The encounter with the mystery also takes the form of spiritual enlightenment or connection both while alone or with others.
The hunger for connection and enlightenment may become even more crucial for individuals as they age. As responsibilities for work, family, and other tasks drop away, elders find themselves entering into a stage of life described by Erikson as that of Integrity vs. Despair. We contemplate the path of our lives thus far, hopefully gaining wisdom from our past endeavors, and begin to seek a sense of satisfaction and wholeness as we prepare for death without dread. To enrich and sustain contemplation, elders need settings that promote opportunities for spiritual reflection and growth.
Providing Environments for Spiritual Enhancement
How might eldercare facilities respond to the needs of elders for environments that allow for their spiritual reflection and growth? Firstly, residential care settings should have quiet spaces both indoor and in natural settings. The spaces should be designed to facilitate meditation, prayer, or other spiritual exploration. Water features such as indoor or outdoor fountains, plants, and art or sculpture may offer inspiration or a meditative focus. Soft lighting, natural if possible, and subdued colors will encourage quiet, restful reflection. Shapes and textures should also be soft. In short, glaring, loud, or sharp features may disturb the sensitivities and intensities that many gifted elders experience (see a later blog entry for more on intensities). The availability of soft, meditative, music – with the option of controlling the volume or turning it off – is also supportive of spiritual enhancement for some.
Reflective spaces should respect all spiritual frameworks. Thus, I would suggest avoiding overt and aggressive use of religious symbols. Incense or other aromas could be available for those who desire them. Books and meditative literature might be available, yet discreet.
There should be seating arrangements for individual as well as group reflection. Above all, these spaces should be non-clinical and as natural as possible. Also vital would be materials for recording thoughts and insights, and for journaling as one conducts a life review. I would suggest that a capable staff member or volunteer may also be available at set times to assist in the life review process.
In this series, we have examined four elements of responsive environment for elders: a virtual gifted community, literacy rich environments, freedom to self-regulate, and spiritual enhancement. By no means is this a complete list of what gifted elders need in residential eldercare. I offer these as a beginning, and I welcome your comments!