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Living Words: Therapeutic Writing for Early-Stage Dementia

Posted Aug 07 2009 12:06pm
Lauren Holland, a student at Wofford College, came across my Writing as Therapy blog post and sent an email two weeks ago about the Living Words program. I answered her email and casually goggled Wofford College to see where it was located. My Goggle search informed me that Wofford is in Spartanburg, SC.

That information made me smile because that’s where my good friend, Ralph Winn, lives. I met Ralph at the 2000 Alzheimer’s Association Public Policy Forum in Washington, DC. Ralph and I, both board members at our local associations, were attending the forum with our respective executive directors. We hit it off at the executive directors’ reception. “Oh, you are a board member, too,” Ralph said with a charming southern accent that immediately made me realize he was indeed a southern gentleman. “I guess we are crashing this party,” he said. Ralph figured he might be distinguished as the oldest participant at the meeting, but he was determined to be an advocate for his lovely wife who had Alzheimer’s.

The next morning I was free to explore Washington, DC, while my executive director was in a meeting. I called the front desk and asked to be connected to Ralph’s room to ask him to go with me. He wasn’t in his room, so I decided he might be people watching. Sure enough, I found him sitting in a big comfy chair in the lobby. That day we toured the Smithsonian and our friendship was born.

Today, I received a second email from Lauren in Spartanburg, SC. This time Lauren mentioned their website and I decided to visit the site to learn more about the Living Words program. This therapeutic writing workshop is for individuals with dementia and a caregiver or friend who accompanies them. I read blog entries, sample stories, program descriptions, and followed a link to a newspaper article about a father and daughter reconnecting because of the program.

I know from personal experience that writing is cathartic and have always recommended it as a way to cope with stress and grief. I knew from the stories submitted by Tracy Mobley and Charles Schneider to Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love that writing helped my friends with dementia. Tracy tells me that writing helps her express herself better than speaking. Writing gives her more time to think about what she wants to say. Writing is not easy for her, but it is well worth the effort.

The Living Words website chronicles the writing program in sufficient detail to allow the implementation of this program in other communities. The website serves as a template for support groups, facilities, or other organizations to help families touched by Alzheimer’s benefit from writing.

Participants are not pushed into writing, but gently nudged into exploring their memories or stretching themselves to creatively answer writing prompts. Workshops are conducted with humor and encourage camaraderie between caregivers and their loved ones with dementia as they share their ideas, thoughts, and reminiscences with each other. Living Words is a concept with the potential to use the therapeutic benefits of writing to improve quality of life for families living with Alzheimer’s.

Visit Living Words website at www.livingwordsprogram.com and see if you can be inspired to offer a similar program in your community.
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