Understanding the Fears of Gifted Elders

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Storm*

     In our region of the country, tornado watches and warnings are frequent. Not surprisingly, one of children’s intense fears that parents of gifted children mention to me most frequently are tornados, even in very young children.  Gifted children, because of their intellectual abilities, develop a keen awareness of potential dangers earlier and more intensely than other children their age. Consulting the literature regarding gifted children, fears that are mentioned frequently among many gifted children are fear of death, separation from or loss of a parent, war, and other social and environmental concerns.

     Changing our perspective to consider gifted elders, again we see that their fears are different and also are much more vivid and intense than those of their age peers. For example, in an article regarding a national survey of the ten most common fears of seniors and elderly, the author lists both loss of independence and fear of isolation or loneliness. While many gifted elder individuals agree that the potential loss of independence as they age is a personal anxiety, a large segment of the gifted adult population consists of introverts.  Thus, they relish their time alone and a powerful fear for them is the reality of residential care facilities in which personal space is at a premium and schedules require that they socialize with others on a daily basis on a schedule that is set by the staff and not by the elders themselves.

     Declining health is another important concern for elders and seniors. Equally, it is a concern for gifted elders. Yet, even more so for many of our gifted seniors, the fear of the loss of their mental faculties is a dread that they voice. As I wrote in an earlier post, the quest for creative productivity is a lifelong pursuit for bright individuals and the fear of losing the ability to create before the completion of their creative agenda is palpable and intense. In addition, due to health problems or just the act of aging, the energy that they have for their creative pursuits dwindles as they grow older. Coupled with the fact that for many, the pace of their work slows, gifted elders feel the pressure to finish their life work in order to leave a tangible legacy. 

     The emotional lives of gifted individuals are rich and deep. Pearl Buck’s eloquent words below appear often in literature about gifted individuals as an illustration of the depths of sensitivity they possess.

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this:  A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating (in Iglesias, 2001, p4).

Buck’s words give us an clear understanding of giftedness, assisting us in appreciating the intensity of fears that gifted elders experience toward the end of their lives – fears of dying before mending difficult relationships and before sharing all that they feel with loved ones, along with fears of losing or leaving loved ones behind.

     There are other fears that all elderly individuals remark on when asked. They include not having enough money to last until their deaths, inability to manage their own physical needs, loss of driving privileges, and fear of falling. The final point in this post to emphasize is the need for caregivers to understand that, due to their rich and active cognitive abilities and their emotional giftedness, gifted elders are much more reactive in terms of the seriousness of their fears and their heightened sensitivities will affect all areas of their lives and well-being. They need understanding caregivers, educated in the nature and needs of gifted individuals, who can respond to them and differentiate services as needed. 

References:

Iglesias, K. (2001). The 101 habits of highly successful screenwriters.  Avon, MA: Adams Media.

Johnson, R. Z. W. (2014, 18 September). 10 most common fears of seniors and elderly. Retrieved from http://www.eldercareresourcesphoenix.com/10-most-common-fears-of-seniors-and-elderly/.

*Photo by Guillaume, at http://www.unsplash.com (https://unsplash.com/photos/revxuIor0nY)

6 thoughts on “Understanding the Fears of Gifted Elders

  1. Thank you Marianne! I agree about the need for elders to share their life stories. One of the assignments I gave my undergraduates when I taught Developmental Psychology was to sit with a significant elder and assist them in making a life review. Many of the students commented on how enriching the experience was for both themselves and the elders.

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  2. Such a poignant, beautifully written post, with essential information that we all need to know. You highlight the creative process, so critical to gifted individuals, that never fades. One of the other dilemmas for gifted elders in residential facilities is not finding like-minded peers with the same cognitive abilities who think like they do (in spite of, perhaps, declining memory), and who have a similar history of creative and complex pursuits. Thank you.

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