Elderly people

Dreams and dreaming among the elderly

     In a 1999 paper entitled "Dreams and Dreaming Among the Elderly: An Overview" we looked into what was then known about the dreams of those in the later phases of life. This was in connection with a project in which we wished to investigate the effects of dream-telling among the elderly. The hope was to show that dream-telling (without interpretation) had beneficial effects and that this could then be used in an effort to introduce nurses and other health care professionals to the idea of asking for dreams from their patients as a way of making those in their care feel more at home and establish a better and more human contact. Unfortunately, in our research study (supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation) we ran into what is known as a ceiling effect: those that volunteered to serve as subjects were too well off -- there was hardly any room for improvement (we had to have healthy volunteers as subjects because we had to be sure they were not taking psychoactive medicines.)!

     At the time of the paper, it was generally thought that the dreams of the elderly were depressive in tone and were often characterized by feelings of loss and bewilderment. The survey of the literature, though, showed that while this was often true of those in institutions (where most investigations had taken place) it was not necessarily true for those who were living healthy, active lives in society. The inescapable conclusion of the literature review was that the subject matter of dreams often reflects the life circumstances of the dreamer (as tends to be true of most of us). It was helpful to learn, in fact, that the dreams of those later in life tend to be more positive than those of their younger counterparts.

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