ELDER MUSIC: Classical - Various 3
The Future of Social Security Under Trump

Do Dreams Change in Old Age?

PERSONAL NOTE: Apparently it is interview season at TimeGoesBy. There are the ongoing Skype chats with my former husband, Alex; the recent print interview with Debbie Reslock at Next Avenue; and today, an audio interview with Jana Panarites of Agewyz. Scroll to the bottom of this post for our interview.

* * *

It has been many years since I last remembered a dream. Sometimes there are fragments when I wake but they float away before I can grab hold of them.

That's probably just as well because in a lifetime, the single pleasant dream I recall is flying around my bedroom having a marvelous time swooping and dipping, rising again and seeing the room from a whole new angle. It was a load of fun and that happened in about 1960 when I was 19 or 20.

All the other dreams I remember are anxiety- or fear-ridden, like the one that began when I was about six years old. A huge bear was chasing me. I ran into a room, slammed the door shut believing I had avoided him but turned around to see that the bear was still there.

I ran out of the room, found an elevator, punched a button and when I turned around again, there was the bear. And so on.

That dream, which repeated now and then for several years, finally stopped but I have never forgotten it or the fear it induced. Apparently being chased by a bear is a common dream and at least one dream interpreter says this:

”To dream that a bear is chasing you and you are running away in fear, this means you are avoiding a big issue in your life, and it is time to deal with it.”

I don't have any truck with dream interpretation to begin with an it feels like a stretch to apply an adult psychological concept to a first-grader.

This and a few other dreams impressive enough to not forget came to mind while reading an Aeon essay about how dreams change throughout our lifetimes. I hoped part of it would be a good discussion of how elders' dreams are similar or different from younger people's but there was only this:

”Older adults tend to dream more about creative works, legacies and enduring concerns, while the dreams of dying people are filled with numbers of supernatural agents, other-worldly settings and images of reunions with a loved one who has died.”

Nevertheless, the rest of the piece, written by Patrick McNamara, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine and a professor at Northcentral University, dropped some fascinating information on me:

”...amputees very often dream themselves intact,” he writes. “They might not experience the loss of their limb in dreams even years after the amputation, and even if the physical handicap was congenital.

“Similarly, dreams of the congenitally deaf-mute or those of the congenitally paraplegic cannot be distinguished from those of non-handicapped subjects. It is as if the dream has access to the whole dreamer who is a different person from the individual anchored in waking consciousness.

“Dream reports from deaf-mute individuals involve them talking and hearing normally. Patients with varying degrees of paraplegia report themselves flying, running, walking and swimming. The dream is accessing somebody different from the waking individual who is having the dream.”

And on a historical note, this:

”Dreams differ...dramatically across historical epochs. The dreams of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and indeed the dreams of most peoples of the ancient world, were viewed as direct portals into the spirit world and the realm of the ancestors and gods.

“Ancient peoples (and traditional peoples even today) often experienced dreams as the place to conduct a transaction with a spirit being who could significantly help or hinder you in your daily affairs.”

I probably could have used a good spirit guide for this dream that, even after 25 years or so, I remember in detail:

I was a contestant on a television game show. The host and I were on one side of a stage facing the live audience and cameras. A wall divided the stage in half and on the other side of it stood two men, I was told, with hand guns poised and if I got the next question wrong, they would come around the wall and shoot me.

It was a yes-or-no question and although I don't remember what it was, I do recall pondering that I had a 50/50 chance of dying in the next minute or so and no way to change the odds.

The only chance I had, I told myself, was that this was a dream. It didn't feel like a dream, I didn't believe it was a dream, but I had nothing to lose if I tried to awaken myself.

And I did, breathing heavily, scared to death – so to speak – and I sat in bed that night with the light on for a good, long time.

Professor McNamara concludes in part:

”The huge variety of dream states suggests that dreaming is just as important as waking life for biologic fitness, and very likely has multiple generative mechanisms and functions. For example, dreaming about scary threats likely helps us to avoid those threats during the daytime...”

You can be sure I will never appear on a TV game show.

There may not be much in McNamara's story about dreams in old age but there is a lot more information about the purposes of dreams which you can read here. Plus, there are several more pieces on the topic of dreams at his website.

Have your dreams changed as you have grown older?

* * *

A couple of weeks ago, I spent about an hour on the phone with Jana Panarites. She is the founder of Agewyz Media Group, created in 2014 to raise awareness in the media about the plight of caregivers in the US and to promote healthy aging across the generations.

The Agewyz Podcast, Agewyz Media’s main property, explains Jana, is an online radio program distributed weekly on multiple platforms including iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play Music, in addition to the nationally syndicated Speak Up Talk Radio Network.

I had a fine ol' time with Jana that day. Here is the interview or, you can listen to it on her website which, in any case, is worth a visit.


Loved your interview with Jana.
At 84, I don't think of myself as old....as long as I can move and get around
Enjoy life and something good to eat, or the full moon, or birds at the feeder or buds coming out on the trees. My friends mean a lot to me...and of course, family too, and I hope I can just go along this way, for a long time more.
Thanks for all your blogs and your outlook on life.
Emmy Abrahams

In my younger years, I dreamed of catastrophes that I tried, in vain, to avoid such as, when my children were young, their being in mortal danger from which I was trying to rescue them. In my mid-late-30s, I dreamed that I was threatened by a really bad person with a gun. I turned on him and killed the SOB, stuffing him up into the suspended ceiling of the motel room in which I was staying in my dream.

Since that time, I've no longer experienced dreams in which I feel powerless. In the past 20 years I've mostly dreamed of working in California or Albuquerque, as in the 1980s I did, or of everyday living in which my dead relatives appear. I awaken refreshed.

I'm 78 and I dream all the time. I find it interesting that I never dream that I'm the age I am; I'm always much younger. I'm often in a city, usually New York, trying unsuccessfully to get somewhere. I know where I'm going but keep running into obstacles. Even if there are people nearby to ask directions, I can't ask them for help because although I have a vivid picture in mind of my destination, I can't remember what it's called.

Wouldn't a shrink have a field day with that!

There is a part of the mind which organizes, scripts, and controls dreams. I call it The Entertainment Committee. It has improved through the years. No more stereotypical dreams such as being naked in public places or being unprepared for an exam. Now the dreams are well-formed stories with a cast of characters and plausible story line. They are interesting!

My dreams now are without any symbolism or metaphor. For example, I used to dream about all my teeth falling out. The obvious interpretation: I'm afraid of losing my virility. Now when I dream about all my teeth falling out it's because I'm afraid of all my teeth falling out.

I dream often and remember even the tiniest details, but what I find strange is that I rarely dream about people I know. However, a few weeks ago, in my dream I received a phone call from my deceased partner telling me where he was and why I hadn't heard from him in a long time. What made me so happy is that it was really his voice.

Decades ago, I used to pay more attention to, and study more about, dreams. At some point that interest was largely turned off by so much of the silliness, at least decades ago, involved in dream interpretation, including some of the Freudian stuff. I've recently become more interested again, due to the work that's been done in brain science that's begun to look at dream activity in different ways. These days, though, I barely remember my dreams for more than a few minutes after waking, unless I make a point of writing them down, which I rarely bother with.

The interview was interesting, but I have to admit to having trouble with the statistic of 80+% going to the grave while still living on their own. It's not even close in my experiences with family, friends and acquaintances over the past several years. It seems to me to be more like 50% or more needing a lot of supportive and assisted housing before death. This now includes my mother and stepfather, who at 87 and 91, respectively, had, until two months ago, been living reasonably well and mostly independently in their own home. When a fall two months ago resulted in my mother dislocating her shoulder, that quickly put an end to that. The encroaching mild-to-moderate dementia which she had been experiencing for the past year or so, seemed to flare and rapidly progress, and her walking has become very erratic and she's mostly been confined to a wheelchair since January. She is still in the rehab facility where she went after a week in the hospital, with really no progress on anything. She's being told she needs to leave the rehab facility, and there's no way she can return to their home, but two local care facilities have now denied her application, saying she requires "too much assistance." They're running out of options in the small city where they live, and have no idea what's going to happen. In two months, their life has gone from fairly pleasant and comfortable to something of a nightmare. Having gone through this with my husband's parents eight years ago, I am so not looking forward to navigating through the elder care system again, and it's starting off so much worse this time around.

As I've aged there have been fewer flying dreams, horses and wild animals, I think mostly because I don't make the effort now as I once did. When I ask for a dream before going to sleep and make a space immediately upon waking, it's still very helpful. I love my dreams, and do feel that in some way they have been instructive. Especially when they come in series.
Over a span of many years, I first struggled to learn to fly, became proficient, then taught others how, and though recently flew with abandon, now I usually just kind of float over the landscape in a pleasant, leisurely way.

I can usually relate my dreams to recent events, thoughts, or concerns. Not directly, but there will be certain elements that I can see were prompted by something I was thinking about or saw or heard. I always dream in color and with great realism. Can't imagine anything else. I would love to have lucid dreams, where I know I'm dreaming and can wake myself up. But it's never happened.

OK, I'll say what is the weirdest thing that I ever dreamed. I think it's called pre-cognition. I dreamed I was sitting in my home, or a coffee shop, at a table sipping coffee and talking with my mother, not realizing she died 15 years ago at all. We talked as if she were just right there, about our normal topics...then I noticed she had gone somewhere, and thought, "She's just in the other room." And that is what her belief about death had always been. So I woke up thinking what a nice visit I had with her.
Then an hour later I learned of my sister's death 4 months ago, and an hour after that I learned of the death of my best friend. I was able to hold onto the feeling "she's just in the other room" for most of the day. I think my mother's energy somehow came in a dream and gave me that feeling so I'd be able to deal with the double whammy of 2 deaths in reality. I do remember most of my dreams, sometimes journal them. Different as I age? I now know what position to sleep in and when I dream, so I can have more now. I took part in a dream group where we shared to each other and gave feedback like"if that had been my dream it would have meant."

Throughout my life I've rarely dreamed--or at least I do not recall most of my dreams. However, a few nights ago I decided to try melatonin as a sleep aid. Either the dosage was too high or I cannot tolerate it at all because I had the weirdest, disjointed, almost hallucinatory dream. Most unpleasant, and I doubt that I will try this "natural" remedy again.

Yes, flying dreams are great. I've had a few in my time but not for many years now.

The only discernible difference in my dreams now that I am over 80 is that they seem to have become more mundane. I rarely have 'big' dreams any more. By 'big' dreams, I mean the ones that feel really important and meaningful. Since those are likely to be coded message from my own Unconscious mind, I have always followed Carl Jung's advice and tried to tune into what message they bring. I have learned a lot about myself that way over the years.

There are lot of ways to work with dreams (I used to teach people how to do dreamwork when I was a therapist). But consulting a so-called 'dream interpretation' book is not one of them. Dream messages use symbols and symbols are personal. There is only one important thing about a bear in a dream, and that is what bears mean to the dreamer. That will differ from person to person.

Good question - dreams. Way back when life was a bit difficult, my dreams were full of anxiety and scary stuff. Than that period passed, and I and my dreams were more happy. However, once more, when I couldn't sleep, I took a sleeping pill that resulted in a dream that was so awful, I said "never again" to those remedies.

Now, my dreams are mostly pleasant. Once in a while a dream will become too complicated and I don't want to deal with it. Somehow, even in that state, I can remember to say "this is a dream, I don't have to be here!" and wake myself up.

Our minds are wonderful things.

In reading Cathy's post, it sounds like her parents (and she) are in a most unenviable situation. My spouse is 88 and I'm 81, and I can envision something disabling happening to us as time goes on--although I urgently hope that it does not. We live independently with minimal outside help so far, which is extremely important to me. We're essentially introverts and would not do well in an institutional living environment. In-home care would be my much-preferred option. However, unfortunately, we are not wealthy so if we cannot care for ourselves, a decent quality of life cannot be assured. Although we have done our best to prepare and I try not to dwell on the "what-ifs", the future is not something I like to contemplate.

I wish older adults who have reached the end of their useful lives and whose health is failing and assets are shrinking had more options--including to end their lives if that is their choice. I'm not there yet but the day may come. Our society gives lip service to "honoring" and caring for its elders, but lip service is where it ends. The realities of disability and needing care in old age--unless you have PLENTY of money--are far from what most of us would desire and hope to experience. I hope Cathy's parents are able to find a reasonable living situation that does not impoverish them--or Cathy.

I much enjoyed your interview with Jana of Agewyz.

I do continue to dream a good deal though don't usually make an effort to remember them. My second partner died suddenly over 20 years ago and I continue to have dreams in which he plays a major role, often of abandoning me, or if we're together it's transient.

Short time ago the dream that woke me up --which I labeled a nightmare--was my returning to work , having to drive to make visits (home health nurse) and also taking on the position of mayor of a small town as part of the job! What a relief to awaken and know I was indeed no longer working!

My 97-year old mother tells me she dreams a lot--and include dreams of being lost, trying to get somewhere and being unable.

Since leaving paid work, I have way fewer nightmares. My dreams now tend more to be very plot-rich and intricate, often involving sci-fi elements. The night before my dad died, he said he'd just dreamed of characters from the Bible -- and he was an agnostic who'd never once discussed religion with us.

I have a number of recurring dreams, one of which is that I (formerly a community college English teacher) have failed to attend one of my classes. The quarter is ending, and I have to make quarter end assignments and record grades, when I don't even know if the students have been there.

Another is that I am remarrying my ex husband for the second or third time, and I'm not feeling at all enthusiastic.

Last Thursday, I dreamt about my first serious boyfriend. But when I went to talk to the person I thought was him, it turned out to be his son. In real life, I was going to the Social Security office to sign up for my benefits the next morning.

I understood the dream to mean that, yes, I really am this old, and my brain is trying to process that fact!

Many thanks to you, Ronni, for all the guidance you've given me for this stage of my life.

My dreams have always been vivid and interesting. I used to get ideas for paintings from them when I was still doing that. When I was a programmer I'd go to sleep thinking about some thorny problem and wake up with the answer. No more problem solving dreams.

I don't have flying dreams anymore and I miss them. I think there is a lot of personal information can be gleaned from them if you can recall them and if you take the time. I used to keep a dream journal but I am not conscious enough when I first wake up to do that now. I am about 35 in my dreams (I'm 76). Up until my 40's I was a child of about 10 in my dreams.

Yes, the content has changed. 1) I often dream I'm living in a place I'd like to be, a seaside town, which oddly is always the same in the dream, roads, landscape, everything. It doesn't exist but at this point it's so familiar I could draw a map of it and in fact I've started one. 2) I now often dream I'm at work when I was an illustrator and that I will be gotten rid of if "they" find out how old I am. Job is always on the campus of my alma mater. 3) Also recent, dreaming of both my parents, at different times, mostly my father. They've both been dead for years and I never dreamed of them until recently and but I'm guessing it has something to do with being in the age I remember them most and receiving a diagnosis of COPD which my mother had, and a less long life than I anticipated. That mostly reminds me as I wake to get up and do what I wanted even if it's just sitting in sun in the park with a book.

I dream every night and I have always had anxiety dreams. I went through a time when I yelled out in my dreams and woke everyone up. Those were nightmares of being chased. Now, at 72, I often dream of people from my past, friends I had when I was a child, old lovers, being in school. Some of these are pleasant dreams, some not so much, and I wake feeling sad.

One thing that is interesting about these dreams is that my age changes according to the dream. If it's about childhood, I am a child, if it's a high school dream I am a teenager, etc. I don't think my dreams were always like this. I think I was always the age I actually was as I was having the dream. But now, I see myself in the dream as a different age.

I do seem to have more unpleasant dreams than other people do when I ask them about their dreams. And my dreams are always very vivid, but that may be side-effects of the anti-depressants I have been taking for many years. That's okay. I won't be giving up my anti-depressants. I'll take the vivid, unpleasant dreams.

My beloved husband, who is almost totally blind, tells me that in his dreams, he can see everything. Just like when he was sighted...

Obviously, there were more sexual type dreams when I was younger. They have nearly fallen by the wayside--but enough of that. Now, after finally retiring and not involved in corporate combat, no longer struggling to hold my job or my position in the competition for recognition, promotions, and raises, I seem to have frequent dreams about uncomfortable work scenarios where I'm usually the underdog or brunt of criticism. Sometimes I find myself still in my old office wondering why they took me back? They happen not infrequently but seem to be dampening out as I adjust to retirement. I see all of this as a form of work related PTSD. What's next--something else, a little more upbeat, I can only hope. Old age is interesting and things are changing quickly, including dreams.

Posting only to get rid of the continuing italics.

I read a lot and my dreams are generally stories which I find very interesting . Sometimes I'm the hero, but not all the time. As I've aged I have developed an additional story line in which I'm frustrated because the children or people in my dream won't do what I tell them to do. As a mother and former teacher, that is pretty easy to understand - loss of power.

Generally, though I'm usually just enjoying going back through my life, or dreaming novels. I have a hard time leaving them and can easily drop back in them.

Marian Van Eyk McCain and I share the advice by Carl Jung. I believe that our subconscious is the author of our dreams and by inference mean something to us.

When I awaken and remember my dream I try to analyze the meaning. Recently I have been dreaming that I am in a strange city looking for something and never finding it. Sometimes I am unable to reach my goal because I do not know where I am going. My interpretation is that the strange city is death and I am ambivalent about it. I am always much younger in my dreams with no physical disability. That is probably a sign of wishful thinking.

My late husband figures in my dreams more now. He is always returning from a trip and I am so delighted to see him. Again, that is a need that will never be fulfilled.

I used to keep a dream journal when I was going through a very unhappy period of my life.
My dreams were always different, but there was an underlying theme in them. I was always alone in those dreams and after reading them in sequence I understood the message that I needed to fix what was wrong because no one else could do it for me.

I was unable to open your interview on this site or on the original one. I am disappointed.

Great topic, Ronni!

I've always remembered my dreams (or at least, some of them). I think I do remember fewer of them now that I'm old, but that may be because I'm paying less attention than in earlier years. I think dreams are a bit like cats: the more interest and attention you show them, the more they respond and blossom to their full potential.

I find that dreams come in different categories...

-junk dreams that seem to mean nothing at all

- everyday, mundane dreams which seem to be the subconscious mulling over and processing current issues and maybe offering a new perspective

- dreams with distinct messages: warnings such as "you really need to pull up your socks before there's trouble" or encouragement such as "don't give up, you can get through this".

- and then there are the seemingly psychic dreams. I don't think of myself as being adept at discerning paranormal phenomena in waking life, but I suspect everyone has these dreams and some pay attention, while others don't.

In the late 1980's I had a dream that I was standing in my dad's house (my mom had already died, both in the dream and in real life). I looked up and saw that the kitchen clock had stopped at 20 minutes to 11. Then I walked through the house and found that all the other clocks had also stopped at the same time (though the lights in the house were still on). At that point I woke up.

About 5 years later our dad was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. My sister and I nursed him at her home until he died. He died at 20 minutes to 11.

To add to the mystery, my sister had often said that the only dream she ever remembered having was when as a child, she dreamed that Dad had died in her bed. It freaked her out so much, she never forgot it. No doubt Freud and others could have had a field day with that dream. But the simple fact was he did literally die in her bed, in her bedroom, about 40 years after she dreamed it.

Katie - that is fascinating!

I have had about 4 truly psychic dreams similar to your experience. One predicted a third child for my oldest daughter who had decided she was through having babies. I even dreamt his name! LOL (Of course, she HAD to name him what I called him in my dream after that)

I don't control these premonitions, I cannot "summon" my dream spirit, and not sure I would want to.

Every fortune teller I've gone to all tell me I have the proverbial "old soul". Perhaps I do. We don't know very much about the human brain and its full potential.

My nightmares as a child typically involved unfriendly alien invaders coming to Earth and into my bedroom. Beginning about 1960 throughout my life, the fear of spacemen still is unsettling to me. The panic such dreams used to induce are far less intense at almost 64.

Ronni - you always are so goooood on live interviews! Your professional years' experience still shine brightly.

How old are you in your dreams? until a few years ago I was about 35 or 37; at present I'm in my early 40s when I dream. What makes it very interesting is that, in real life, I'm going to be 72 very soon!

I have nightmares very often, especially if I sleep on my back. I used to be able to force myself to wake up from a bad dream, but not anymore.

I still dream that I'm pregnant or have a baby child, and it makes me wonder in a pleasant way.
Ever since I was a very young woman, I dreamt that my teeth were falling and/or I was losing my hair. I had hair like a lion's mane and very strong and healthy teeth, never understood these dreams. It was a relief to wake up and check everything was there!
When I was finishing my long studies in order to become a lawyer (7 years ,in my country) I dreamt that I would die before I could reach my objective and join the Portuguese Bar Association!
On the more intimate side, I ocasionally have VERY erotic dreams, with ... pleasant physical reactions!!

The main change I've seen over the years is that earlier in life I used to have the occasional very, very pleasant - or amusing - dream that made me wake up with a blissful smile on my face. They didn't happen very often, but they did from time to time.
Now, I can't even remember the last time I've had a really pleasant dream. I do get the occasional nightmare (which I had extremely rarely - almost never - when younger).
Now my dreams also tend to be somewhat more structured, more "logical" (my usual mode of dreaming was always so "surreal" that my dreams were almost impossible to retell) - but I somehow don't feel that's a good thing.

The older I get (I'm 78), the more vivid and imaginative my dreams have become. Never really bad or disturbing, either, most of the time they're actually quite enjoyable and I wake up smiling or even laughing. Most involve close family, particularly my deceased mother and father, but also sometimes my brother (a few years younger than I); and "cast members" are often close golfing friends who I no longer see, or who have passed on. (Interestingly, I rarely dream about my four children.) Sometimes my dreams are in the past, but also sometimes rather futuristic. I don't remember speaking to anybody, though, who actually enjoys dreams the way I do. But I'm depressed a lot of the time when awake, and as I tell people, my dreams are much more enjoyable and interesting than my actual LIFE is right now. So I'm hoping then don't stop.

I loved reading all the comments. I just found site because at age 62 my dreams are much less vivid. They used to be very interesting and dynamic. Now they feel "blah." I liked the comments about flying dreams. It has been a long time since I have flown in a dream. But I had many different chapters of flying dreams; different abilities to fly through things (or not); at different elevations; with different superpowers. A frequent flying issue was the long-range electrical power lines. My flight would always have to occur just above or below their elevation. I dreamt about my father for years before and after his death. I almost never dream about my mother.

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