Advances in medicine have helped fight the physical effects of ageing. Can counselling and mindfulness help fight the psychological effects?
The prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease amongst the world’s ageing populations have inspired brain training and exercise programmes for seniors to help them keep their minds fit. Latest developments in the field of elder health care have taken this further to propose Conscious Ageing, also known as ‘Sage-ing’, which is based on study and reflection to determine the optimal ways of using the extra healthy years of one’s life span. In this model, the senior years are regarded as a good time to review life lessons, re-contextualise experiences and give society the benefits of their life-long learning. Elders are motivated to explore their legacies and contribute their wisdom and uniquely longer term perspectives to help make the world a better place for the generations to come.
In conjunction with U3A, Cape Town’s University of the Third Age, Cognitive Health facilitator and guest speaker at the upcoming SACAP Festival of Learning, Grace Smith has developed as an advocate of Conscious Ageing over more than ten years.
“I originally started this work because of the fear so many people have when they approach their senior years regarding their memory,” Grace says. “I collaborated with an international brain training expert to devise a methodology to familiarize the participants in my programme with both memory training techniques and the functioning of the brain. Later, with the realisation that emotions have an important role to play in the retention of memory, I started to incorporate emotional well-being into my presentations.”
Advances in the knowledge of neuroscience are continuous and Grace keeps up with the ongoing research so that the participants in her small-group programme benefit from these new developments. She says: “When the impact of stress on mental functioning became evident, I also incorporated meditation and mindfulness training to help participants learn to monitor and regulate their moods. This empowers people to respond constructively to unfortunate incidents in their lives, rather than react to them with stress and anxiety, or grief and anger. As the programme developed, I became aware that ultimately the important work of our senior years is to develop our spiritual insights and understandings so that we learn to know ourselves better and gain more awareness of our values and attitudes.”
Grace’s Conscious Ageing group meets on a monthly basis to explore a range of pertinent topics that might include the understanding of prejudice, the difference between loneliness and being alone, and the impact of technology on emotional and spiritual well-being. Ahead of the meetings participants receive materials to study and think about so that they can each provide input to the group allowing insights to emerge. As facilitator, Grace guides the discussion and offers her expertise based on psychological theory.
Participants are encouraged to develop daily meditation habits that foster inner peace and awareness, while also helping them to manage their physical and emotional discomforts better. Participants, some of whom have been there from the very start, readily attest to improved quality of life and greater day to day satisfaction.
“I believe it is important to keep an open mind and to remain curious,” says Grace. “We should never be satisfied with what we know. There’s an aliveness that comes with exploring new and different ideas, so ongoing learning should be a keen focus for seniors.”
We live in times when we have far greater expectations of making it to old age than previous generations, and burning question of “How can we live longer?” has changed to “How can we live well for longer?”
To find out the answers, join Grace Smith’s presentation on ‘Ageing Consciously and Mindfully’, which is part of the Cape Town programme at the upcoming 7th annual SACAP Festival of Learning.
The 2018 Festival of Learning hosted by SACAP:
Johannesburg, 17–18 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Rosebank
Times: 17 May from 5:30pm to 8:30pm / 18 May from 9am to 5pm
Human Library: 18 May from 11:00am to 3pm
Cape Town, 24-25 May
Venue: SACAP Campus, Claremont
Times: 24 May from 5:30pm to 8:30pm / 25 May from 9am to 5pm
Human Library: 25 May from 11:00am to 3pm
Tickets for the 2018 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets. Costs are R200 for the full-day programme, which includes dialogues, panel discussion and the Human Library. Tickets for the short-talk evening programme, which includes catering and networking opportunities, are also R200. There is a special offer for students at R80 per ticket.
For further information please visit: http://go.sacap.edu.za/psychology-festival