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Memory Journals December 8, 2017

In addition to the therapeutic benefits of daily writing, studies have shown that keeping a journal can offer a handful of benefits specifically helpful to seniors. Journaling can be a great way to document special moments or events in one's life, while combating memory loss, reducing stress and staving off dementia.

Many seniors are navigating a sea of changes in their daily lives - from changes in medicine and activities to possible new living situations or dietary restrictions - a journal can also help keep track of these new adjustments and provide a sense of stability in one's routine. 

In contrast to the day-to-day documenting, a journal can also serve as a time capsule for family memories and stories. Seniors often worry their lifetime of experiences and knowledge may be forgotten. Many choose to write about specific past events so their children or grandchildren will have a written account of special family moments to reference - like the day they met their sweetheart, bought their first home or graduated college. Writing out details of life events is a great way to leave a written family history, while stimulating the mind and enjoying the writing process.

Getting Started

To get started with your journal, first choose a medium you feel comfortable with. Some people prefer the simplicity of a notebook and a pen, while others gravitate toward a laptop or a typewriter. Once you've decided on the best method of documentation that fits your daily life, prepare to set aside a certain amount of time for writing. It might be once a day, once a week, or once a month accompanied by a loved one or family member, but decide on a schedule that seems realistic for your lifestyle.

Types of Journaling

Most senior journaling experiences fall into one of two categories: a journal for yourself, of your daily thoughts, ideas, schedules, reflections and goals, or a memory journal for your family, made with the intention of someone else reading it and finding value in the information and stories. Keeping a journal to give to your family can also be a way to record the details of your life that perhaps you'd never think to share or they would never think to ask about. 

You can keep a mix of either kind of journal, or you can choose to pick just one or the other. However, many people have said setting an intention for the journal helps them decide what to write about. 

Prompts for Journals

When first starting out with a journal, many people find themselves at a loss for what to write. They become overwhelmed by the need to write every memory and story, or they can't seem to think of something worth writing at all. Sometimes a simple prompt is a great way to melt away writer's block and get a few ideas flowing.

Suggested prompts for personal journals provided by the National Writing Project:

  • What did you do today?
  • What is your favorite way to spend the day?
  • What is your daily routine?
  • What are three things you can't go without?
  • What are your favorite things to wear?
  • What would your perfect day entail?
  • When do you feel happiest?
  • What current event or issue do you feel very strongly about?
  • What's on your mind?

Suggested prompts for memory journals provided by the National Writing Project:

  • What period of your life do you look back upon most fondly?
  • Who have been the most important people in your life?
  • Describe a time when someone was unexpectedly kind to you.
  • Describe a random act of kindness you did for someone else.
  • Finish this thought: Nobody knows that I . . .
  • What is the biggest lie you have ever told?
  • Describe your first love (this could be a person, a place, a thing, etc).
  • Have you ever done something that you thought you couldn't?
  • What recurring dreams have you had?
  • When in your life did you feel most proud?
  • Of all the places you have lived, which most felt like home?

Benefits of Journaling

The American Psychological Association (APA) found that expressing your thoughts through daily writing can bring significant improvements in your mental health and psychological well- eing. The study indicates that expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory, which can be particularly beneficial to seniors struggling with memory loss or dementia.

Additional studies show senior journaling can improve dexterity, help track daily routines and redefine a sense of purpose in their daily lives. 

Journaling is an accessible activity that requires few materials and can be done almost anywhere. Whether you choose to write daily or weekly, keeping a journal can offer powerful mental health benefits while simultaneously creating an unforgettable, tangible legacy for you and your family to treasure for decades.


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