Sunday, April 2

Writing workshops and their benefits for the elderly

The writing has numerous positive effects. The habit of writing about oneself, whether by recording one’s experiences in a journal, writing down one’s dreams, or simply a few “morning pages” as a way to start the day, helps both physical and mental health and well-being. they practice it.

“Dear Diary”: Seven Benefits of Writing Your Own Experiences


Among the main benefits of this type of writing is the possibility of organizing one’s own ideas and feelings. As Mónica Bruder, a psychologist specializing in narrative therapy, explains, “writing makes the subject work with your thinking”.

“You think and then write, and then you have to make a synthesis of what you thought,” says Bruder. And he adds that “writing organizes thought, and thus the one who writes can understand it better”.

On the other hand, when you do not write about yourself but practice creative writing -inventing stories and in many cases “playing” with words- the imagination is stimulated and the results contribute with a improvement in mood and an increase in self-esteem.

The fact is that, beyond those benefits that reach people of all ages, writing has specific advantages for older adults. Especially when it is done in the context of a writing workshop.

This is a group space where slogans and activities are proposed that serve as starting points for the creation of texts. Such workshops are often advertised as “schools”, which aim above all at learning literary writing, that is, at the construction of novels and stories.

But there are also many other creative writing workshops, not intended for those who want to be writers but for people who want to write simply as a expression form.

The most important benefits are the following:

1. Promotes social ties and reduces the feeling of loneliness

Although writing seems like a very solitary activity, the group dynamics of the workshop help to socialize, share concerns, create links with other people and reduce the feeling of loneliness, so present in many people in the last stage of life.

This is not due to the mere fact of sharing a space with other people, but -above all- to the fact that creative writing contributes “not only to improving communication skills”, but is also “the ideal medium for express emotions”. Putting emotions into words and sharing them with others is the key to these bonds.

That is why group writing encourages “social participation” of the elderly. This is how researchers Irma Herros Sánchez and Antonia Jarvio Fernández, from the Universidad Veracruzana, in Mexico, explain it in a article on the promotion of reading and writing in older adults, published last year.

2. It works like “brain gymnastics”

Writing in a workshop also functions as mental gymnastics or “neurobics”, since it consists of cognitive stimulation exercises that, according to the aforementioned study by Herros and Jarvio, “help the strengthening mental abilities by strengthening the connections in the brain.”

So write promotes active aging. “Its proper use slows the progression of deterioration and the disconnection with the environment,” adds the text. And this relates this point to the previous one, since in this way the exercise of writing “strengthens social relations and enhances the self-esteem of those who practice it.”

By the way, a study conducted in the United States indicates that writing by hand -that is, with a pencil or pen and not through a keyboard- helps to process and reprocess information, and consequently also enhances memory and learning.

3. It has therapeutic value

Writing almost always performs a therapeutic function. “Many authors establish a clear relationship between writing and therapy”, Explain also a philologist, María Isabel Alonso Breto, a researcher at the University of Barcelona. This is a trait that stands out above all when a person writes about herself.

And this writing about oneself can appear in various formats: intimate diary, autobiographical stories, memoirs, letters, etc. This kind of writing “is a good self scan tool and a wonderful or painful reminder”, explains the philologist Silvia Adela Kohan in her book ‘Therapeutic Writing’ (Alba Editorial, 2013).

A few years ago, an Argentine psychologist carried out a experience writing workshop with older adults (who were between the ages of 73 and 92 at the time) Holocaust survivors. The conclusions of the work indicate that “writing and sharing their writings produced the same effect on all the participants: positive emotions”.

Not just on a mental level: group writing exercises have also shown physical health benefits. Specifically, this work described how writing improved immune activity and decreased stress and physical discomfort, to the point of constituting “a tool that alleviates negative emotional experiences.”

4. Revalue knowledge

In many cases, older people are reluctant to take on new activities, because they consider that at this point in their lives there is no point in starting something they have never done before.

In the case of writing, the good thing is that it can be something not entirely new: it can allow retrieve knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. “Are we aware of the texts that we carry inside?”, asks the writer Laura Devetach in her book ‘The construction of the reader path’.

“Each of us was building a internal text library armed with words, songs, stories, sayings, poems, pieces of the individual, family and collective imagination”.

One of the most valuable activities of the writing workshops for older adults has to do with each person being able to investigate their own “text library” and revalue their knowledge: not only academic or “general culture” knowledge, but also -above all – the most common ones, those that have been acquired as result of experience.

5. Strengthens memory and gives life more meaning

Writing stimulates memory. Not only if you write diaries or other texts that talk about yourself; also whoever writes fiction is forced to pull the thread of memories to build your texts. As already noted, this is very positive because of its “mental gymnastics” effect. But not only for that.

When it comes to older adults, giving rise to one’s own memories has a fundamental value, because “in the last stage of life, looking back is a good part of the present”, as explained by the American psychiatrist Arthur Kleinmann in his book ‘The Illness narratives’.

“That retrospective look at the difficult moments of life is as essential for the last stage of the life cycle as dreaming is for adolescents and young adults,” adds the author. That is the reason why it is so common that older people like it count over and over the outstanding episodes of their lives.

For this reason, the writing workshop can also help older people find and be able to express “the coherence, dignity and meaning contained in the accumulated account” of life itself.

The British doctor Iona Heath describes it with these words in a book entitled ‘Help to die’ (Katz Editores, 2008), who adds that “meaning is built from memory and imagination”: precisely, the raw material of writing.

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