Tag: aging process

A Life Review

A Life Review

Fleurs - Jean Claude Papeix
Fleurs – Jean Claude Papeix

When my mother was in her nineties, she became obsessed with telling me stories of her life. I heard about people, places and experiences that she had never shared with me, or perhaps anyone, before. I understood her need to go back and revisit her life in light of Erik Erikson’s Stages of Development. The last stage, “Ego Integrity vs. Despair”, he considered the stage when an individual developed the virtue of wisdom. He contended that during this stage an individual reflects on his or her life and makes a determination as to whether or not it was of value. Their conclusion leads them either to despair and to the belief that their life was wasted or to the conclusion that life was meaningful and of value to society. 

Mom often repeated the same story again and again, almost word for word, as if she had been rehearsing it for a lifetime, but needed to share it one more time, to make it “right”, or make sense of it somehow. It was clear to me that she was struggling to reach a place of acceptance and affirmation. Many times she ended her stories with the wrap up, “It’s been a good life”.  I worried whether or not she actually believed this affirmation as she was so prone to despair throughout her life. 

Now, as the years add up for me, I have already begun to see this process taking place. I am thirty years younger than she was at the time. Had she been thinking about these things for some time, but had never been able to quite resolve the conflict?  Or did I start the process early? Or perhaps, is there another way to look at it.

Carl Jung’s second task in his Seven Tasks of Aging is a “Life Review”. Life tasks seem to arise on cue in most individuals, but we still have the choice as to whether or not we accept the challenge. We decided when and how to step into, and engage, the process in order to be prepared for the next step the task must be taken on.  We learn from a life review as we wrestle with our mistakes, our regrets and disappointments and realign ourselves with our beliefs and our values. Perhaps that is why memoirs are such a popular genre these days. People have more time and freedom to take on this lengthy review process.

we all begin the process before we are ready, before we are strong enough, before we know enough; we begin a dialogue with thoughts and feelings that both tickle and thunder within us. We respond before we know how to speak the language, before we know all the answers, and before we know exactly to whom we are speaking.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

More by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

It is in the process of a life review that we find our answers. Through participation in the tasks of aging we grow in wisdom and become increasingly congruent. it is important to remember that though we are called to undertake these tasks, it might be better to think of them as on-going processes.  We learn and grow when we embrace them, but they ebb and flow, sometimes urgently calling us, sometimes slipping out of sight for a time. Rising to greet the urging when it appears rather than shying away from it will enrich our lives as we age. 

Have you begun the task of a “Life Review”? What have you discovered?

“Sundowning”

“Sundowning”

Sundowning is a pattern of behavior that occurs in the evening after the sun goes down in elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  You may notice that your charge, who may be somewhat lucid during daylight hours, loses ground in the evenings. My mother exhibited this behavior in varying degrees for about six months before she died. I did not understand what was happening at the time and once I did it was easier to handle.

The first time I experienced sundowning was one evening while I was visiting Mom at her apartment in the retirement community where she lived. She had not been doing well and recently had a fall. As we sat together, eating dinner and watching TV, she abruptly turned to me and asked, “Where is your Dad?”

My father had been dead for eight years at the time.  I studied her face trying to discern what information she was looking for. She was quite herself and lucid during the day at that time and I was caught completely off guard. I didn’t know how to respond.  Should I tell her the truth or go along with her delusion? I stumbled my way through it that night reminding her that he had died. She looked surprised and upset that no one had told her of his passing.  The question resurfaced again and again, in addition to others.

Sometimes I merely said, “He’s out” and she would go back to whatever it was she was doing. Other times she would push and prod until I told her the truth and then she would cry, every time it was if she was hearing of his death for the first time. It was painful for both of us.

Dementia is usually caused by illness or mini strokes that have damaged a person’s brain cells. Sundowning is thought to occur due to the correspondent damage of a person’s circadian rhythms, the internal clock that regulates the body’s physiological activities over a twenty four hour period.

There are several things you can do to try and minimize the effects of sundowning.

  • Keep the person active and awake during the day as much as possible. It makes it easier for them to fall asleep in the evening.
  • Plan activities during morning hours and keep the afternoon activities calm and simple.
  • When possible make sure the person receives morning sunlight and increase interior light before dusk.
  • Keep your loved ones life and surroundings simple and uncluttered. A sudden change or move can make it worse.
  • Sometimes confusion can be caused or aggravated by dehydration or hunger. Often the elderly turn away from food and drink, increasing the likelihood of deficiencies.

Most of all, knowing that sundowning exists can be tremendously comforting. I wish I had known then!