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Blog Feature

By: Marissa Salvesen on November 30th, 2015

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The Benefits of Lifewriting

Aging & Caregiving

the-benefits-of-lifewriting.jpgDid you know that November is National Lifewriting Month as well as National Memoir Writing Month? For many seniors, these annual observations offer an important opportunity: the chance to share their stories and create a legacy for future generations.

Let’s take a look at the benefits of lifewriting for older adults, along with some tips for getting started.

What is Lifewriting and Why Does It Matter?

You may already be familiar with the memoir genre, in which a person describes past experiences in writing. Lifewriting includes memoirs and autobiographies, but also comprises diaries, letters, journals, anthropological data, eyewitness accounts, and oral testimony, according to the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing.

International Longevity Center Founder and author of the seminal paper, “Life Review,” aging expert Dr. Robert Butler was an early proponent of lifewriting. He said, “I was struck some years back by the fact that older people tended to review their life. At that time whenever people reminisced it was regarded by psychologists and psychiatrists as possible early signs of senility. But because we were studying vital, healthier older people, it struck me how important it was for people to come to grips with the kind of life they had led.”

In addition to giving seniors the opportunity to reflect on past experiences while accepting the present, lifewriting offers a number of additional benefits for seniors, including everything from improved cognitive function to enhanced communication skills. It can even help stave off memory loss.

Lifewriting also has many therapeutic properties, including improving self-esteem, enhancing feelings of control, delivering new perspectives, and offering an outlet for emotions. According to Social Work Today, “Reminiscing allows older adults to identify past accomplishments and maintain a balanced perspective that integrates the full spectrum of life experience.” This can be particularly beneficial in times of major life change, such as following the loss of a loved one or during the move from a long-time home into a senior living community.

Lifewriting Tips for Seniors

Caregivers can play a critical role in helping aging loved ones tell their stories beyond simply encouraging them to sit down and start writing. Consider these four techniques for supporting your aging loved one’s lifewriting journey:

1. Introduce Journal Writing

While seniors may be intimidated or overwhelmed by the thought of writing something “formal,” journaling offers a more casual way to capture thoughts, memories and feelings. When incorporated into your aging loved one's daily routine, journal writing can not only help with the telling of stories, but can also help with the management of day-to-day emotions.

2. Try Scrapbooking

If your loved one struggles with finding the right words, creating a scrapbook together offers many of the same benefits. While looking through pictures and other memorabilia from the past, caregivers should encourage seniors to share stories, which can then be transcribed and added as captions. The final product? An invaluable heirloom for future generations.

3. Use Video and Audio Recordings

Many older adults have difficulty with the mechanics of writing or using a computer. In this case, audio and video offer a wonderful alternative. In addition to capturing stories, these recordings also capture the personality of the speaker telling the story. Later, these can be transcribed into written form for posterity’s sake.

4. Find a Class

Many local senior centers and community colleges offer memory and lifewriting workshops for seniors. In addition to having an outlet to write, your aging loved one can also benefit from regular social interactions with peers.

While some seniors will jump at the chance to share their stories, others may take more persuasion. In both cases, encouraging older adults to put pen to paper -- literally or otherwise -- is a worthwhile endeavor with ongoing benefits for seniors and the people who love them. And there's no better time to start than during November's National Lifewriting Month.

Key Takeaways

  • Lifewriting offers profound benefits for seniors -- from cognitive to emotional.
  • There are many different ways to share life stories, including everything from journaling to scrapbooking.
  • Seniors who have difficulty writing can still take part in lifewriting through audio and video recordings.
  • The benefits of lifewriting extend to future generations in the form of family stories and histories which might otherwise be lost.

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About Marissa Salvesen

My journey into the world of senior living began when I started working for United Methodist Homes in 2010. Starting as an Activities Director at one of our-winning assisted and independent living communities and then transitioning to Marketing and Promotions Manager for UMH, I now work as the Manager of Mission Development, fostering the Mission and Values of our organization. I love sharing stories about the many ways we build meaningful relationships and enrich the lives of those we serve, and am proud to be part of building UMH’s 140-year legacy of caring. Wondering what makes our communities such special places to live and work? Connect with me and find out!

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