The write help for older people

Older people who are depressed, especially those in residential or nursing care homes, could benefit from writing about their lives. Helen Elford at Sheffield University and her colleagues recruited four residents from a nursing home in South Yorkshire. The residents, one man and four women aged between 71 and 89 years, were invited to write in a series of booklets, each containing prompts to reminisce about different aspects of their lives: their childhood, neighbourhood, working days and holidays and outings. Their writings were typed up by the researchers and returned to them in a final, bound booklet.

A month later, one of the participants, a 78-year-old lady called Anne, was interviewed to find out whether she’d found the project helpful. The researchers also kept field notes and the care home manager completed a questionnaire about the project.

Anne enjoyed the reminiscing and after initial anxiety was surprised by how well she had been able to write, and by how much she had remembered. “I thought ‘I’m not capable of doing it’, but you helped me and it came out easily “, she said. The researchers’ field notes revealed the other participants had also enjoyed the project, and that the process had served as a social prop when friends and relatives visited. The care home staff were also impressed by the level of interest shown by the participants. “It surprised me. [You] forget they can write”, the care home manager said.

“There were numerous benefits to the participants from engaging in writing activities, including the fact that it was cathartic, provided a sense of meaning and purpose, an opportunity to exercise writing skills and memory, and a focus for them to share key stories with others”, the researchers concluded. “Providing writing materials is one very simple and inexpensive way in which care settings for older people could increase the opportunities available to them”, they added.

Elford, H., Wilson, F., McKee, K.J., Chung, M.C., Bolton, G. & Goudie, F. (2005). Psychosocial benefits of solitary reminiscence writing: An exploratory study. Ageing and Mental Health, 94, 305-314.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.