Writing is an effective means of keeping seniors’ minds active as they age. It’s easy to do, stimulates the mind, and offers lots of different avenues to explore, from prose to poetry.
Whether you’re a caregiver, therapist, or have a senior loved one, writing is well worth exploring as a way to keep seniors mentally agile. Read on to learn how.
1. Take a trip down memory lane
A simple way to ease seniors into writing is by having them write about treasured memories. Writing out memories is an enjoyable pastime that stimulates seniors’ minds. It prevents special memories from fading by putting them onto paper, so they can return to them time and again.
As well as keeping your loved one’s mind active, writing out memories also helps boost recall too. By having seniors engage with their memories, their brain has to actively work to remember the details. This increases general cerebral performance as a whole.
Encourage your loved ones to select a special memory from their past. It might be their wedding day, or a family holiday, or a childhood memory. It’s important to focus on positive memories — while negative ones might be formative, dwelling on them is not healthy.
Next, sit down as a group and write a few paragraphs about that memory. Encourage them to think about the senses — tastes, smells, sounds, and so on. This helps flesh out the memories as they remember them.
Once everyone has finished, have each person share their memory with the group and talk about why that memory is special to them. Even beyond this exercise’s cerebral benefits, the joy of sharing a treasured memory with people is unmatched.
2. Embrace the joys of poetry
Another effective and enjoyable way to use writing for seniors is through poetry. Just as listening to music helps those with dementia, studies have also shown that writing poetry is just as beneficial.
There are even workshops dedicated to encouraging seniors to write poetry, such as the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. The group offers hands-on training for caregivers to use with seniors to improve memory and combat the effects of dementia somewhat.
Poetry’s efficacy lies in its simplicity. Poetry is about beauty. Consequently, rather than requiring intensive planning, writing poetry lets seniors express themselves freely. There is no beginning, middle, or end — just sentences that sound beautiful.
Start by having seniors read one or two poems aloud to a group. Afterward, discuss the poems and talk about what they liked or didn’t like about each one. This is no college seminar — just an open discussion about what each person enjoys.
Next, encourage each senior to sit down and write a poem of their own. Again, this is about personal taste. Each person should write what sounds beautiful to them. And like before, sit down in a group and discuss what you enjoyed about each poem.
Encourage people to highlight what it means to them, why they chose certain words or phrases, and if it relates to a certain memory or a loved person. This discussion is crucial for stimulating seniors’ minds by forcing them to engage with poetry after writing it.
3. Craft a story from start to finish
One of the best ways to keep seniors’ minds stimulated through writing is storytelling. A study by Martin Lotze of the University of Greifswald in Germany found that the creative process of crafting a story stimulates certain parts of the brain, as opposed to simply copying out text.
Consequently, creating an entirely new narrative requires thought and creativity, and it boosts mental agility as a result.
Sit down with your loved ones and have them plan and write a short story. It doesn’t need to be very long, just a couple of pages will suffice. This useful guide from Jericho Writers on how to write a book has some excellent resources you can use in your work with seniors. The plot worksheet, in particular, provides helpful guidance on how our loved ones can envision their narrative progresses.
4. Write a good old-fashioned letter
While many say the art of letter-writing is dead, it’s still a valuable exercise that keeps senior minds agile. It’s simple and from the heart, so it’s something well worth exploring.
Ask each senior to pick someone to write to, such as a family member, friend, or even someone else in the group. They can write about anything they like, but a good idea to start with is to relay the events of the day.
This stimulates short-term memory and makes it easier for seniors to recall. This exercise also gives seniors’ family members something to treasure too. As memories fade and loved ones pass away, a letter is a valuable reminder to have.
Writing is proven to stimulate the mind and boost memory. But above all, it’s an enjoyable activity to do, both on one’s own or as part of a group. Use the exercises above as inspiration and keep your loved ones’ minds sharp as they age.