Click for the link to a video that describes the Living Words Program!
Thank you to the group members of the Diversity Leaders Initiative of the Riley Institute at Furman for their generosity to create this video!
Description of Living Words program
Living Words offers a unique approach to creative writing activities. Originally created for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (or other forms of dementia) and their caregivers, it is currently adopted and developed for other groups of people, especially normally aging older adults.
The core of the Living Words program is an invitation for participants to experience creative writing in a unique way—in a group setting, often under the guidance of local writers, and with the intention of having fun.
Creative writing can be practical and enjoyable. It is also inexpensive, both monetarily and time-wise. Writing only requires something to write with, something to write on, and, of course, the willingness to write!
The benefits of creative writing are straight-forward and invaluable at any age, but perhaps especially for older adults. Three of the most significant are:
1) Mental stimulation
2) Reminiscence and reflection on one’s life story
3) A therapeutic release of life’s stressors.
Living Words recognizes these benefits, as well as the fact that sharing in the practice of creative writing in a social setting can enhance these benefits. By engaging in creative writing in a workshop setting, participants are invited by local writers to explore emotions, insights, and memories, as well as to make beautiful things that did not exist before.
The assertion that creative writing heals is not new, however, using a variety of creative writing genres and approaches, such as poetry, fiction writing and personal narrative, for a therapeutic benefit IS relatively new.
A person can write anywhere at any time, alone or in a group, with the intention of sharing what she has written or not. But, for many of us, writing is the sort of the thing that we don’t do every day. In fact, we may even dread writing. We may need some encouragement and the structure of an on-going program. We may also need someone to show us where and how to start.
Whether you are in a position to write or to start a creative program with a group, Living Words will help you take full advantage of the benefits of creative writing.
Browse through our articles, exercises, and other materials and/or contact us. We will do everything we can to help you implement a Living Words program. Your feedback is invaluable. We look forward to hearing from you!
Dr. Kara L. Bopp, Ph.D.
Dr. Kara L. Bopp, Ph.D., professor in the Psychology Department at Wofford College, conducts research in the area of cognitive aging. While her primary research examines normal age-related changes in working memory, recently she has also begun to conduct research on memory training for individuals with dementia. Her studies have been published in journals, such as Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Science.
Dr. Bopp has worked as a volunteer and advocate for the Alzheimer's Association. Both research and personal interest have led to this relationship; her husband's grandfather passed away after being afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, and aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 56.
Dr. Bopp, along with undergraduate students at Wofford College, is working to assess and continually improve the Living Words program. Influenced by the large literatures on therapeutic writing and reminiscence therapy, the information has provided the basis for several working hypotheses of the benefits of the Living Words program.
She lives in Spartanburg, SC with her husband and two children.
A native of Southern California, Joyce Finkle is currently the program director of the Spartanburg Area Office of the SC Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, serving Spartanburg, Cherokee, Union, Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster and York counties.
Finkle’s interest in the Living Words program comes from a realization of the personal benefits of writing as well as the potential it brings to those living with the staggering effects of dementia to master feelings through the power of the written word.
Finkle has worked with Alzheimer’s and dementia-diagnosed families for more than twenty years. She first learned about Alzheimer’s disease in her work for Rensselaer County Department for Aging, in upstate New York.
When her family moved to upstate South Carolina in 1991, she became more intimately acquainted with the effects of dementia, as she worked in the adult day care program at the Senior Centers of Spartanburg County. There she got to talk, sing, play and work with those with dementia, and had in-depth conversations with their family members who dropped them off for a day of socialization. Her fear was replaced with admiration for people living heroically with an extremely difficult disease.
Finkle had the privilege of being hired as the coordinator of the newly opened Alzheimer’s Association office in Spartanburg in 1999. In this job, she been able to listen and talk to hundreds of people about their experiences with dementia. Those conversations underline the importance of practical planning, and accessing resources as the disease progresses.
But those conversations also point to the importance of having a safe place to vent feelings. The emotional impact of Alzheimer’s on the diagnosed person and the family members cannot be denied. Having a person who can listen and make the occasional comment or suggestion is therapeutic. But not everyone has that person to talk to.
Finkle is delighted to be part of the Living Words program, and she encourages people to write and share, so that others can be strengthened, enlightened and might experience a sense of connection and renewed well-being.
A native of Columbia, SC, Lauren Holland is a rising senior at Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. In Spring 2010, she will receive her B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Philosophy. She is a Wofford College ambassador and a member of Wofford College’s Success Initiative, a projects-based, student-led learning community that is grounded in the liberal arts.
In the Spring of 2009, Holland approached Dr. Kara Bopp for a research opportunity, which initiated her involvement in the Living Words program.
Holland’s role in the program is to assist Dr. Kara Bopp, Jeremy L. C. Jones, and Joyce Finkle byorganizing the enormous amount of ideas coming out of the creative energy of the group, harnessing those ideas, and putting them on paper.
Holland also contributes original articles available on the Living Words website, facilitates the Living Words creative writing workshops in Spartanburg, SC, and implements and evaluates the assessment of the program.
Holland has been personally touched by dementia through the experience of her great-grandmother, who died of Alzheimer’s disease. While she did not have the opportunity to know her great-grandmother personally, conversations with her grandmother have allowed Holland to understand the effects of dementia from a caregiver’s perspective. Holland is thoroughly convinced of the benefits of having an emotional outlet, as well as the benefits of having a way to leave a legacy, both which Living Words provides.
In her free time, Holland enjoys early mornings devoted to expressive writing, reading, and exploration of the outdoors. She also enjoys painting and running. Her life-long interest in dinosaurs has been, at times, both embarrassing and awkward, but enriching, nonetheless.
Jeremy L. C. Jones
Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and lecturer. His involvement with Living Words began when he misread an e-mail, pitched a series of creative writing workshops for people with Alzheimer’s, and met with a few like-minded souls over coffee.
He grew up on a boarding school campus in South Florida. The son of a son of son of a teacher, he continues in the family business as a journeyman of sorts, having taught special education, middle school enrichment, high school English, and college-level writing and literature classes. (He once taught a class on dinosaurs, but the students knew more than he did!) He currently teaches part-time at Wofford College, other local colleges, and at the occasional church.
Jones is a board member for The Hub City Writers Project and The South Carolina Academy of Authors. In July of 2008, he and novelist Jeff VanderMeer helped launch Shared Worlds, a science fiction and fantasy writing camp for teenagers.
Jones contributes regularly to the third-party role-playing game magazine Kobold Quarterly, as well as to a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites.
He lives in Boiling Springs, SC, with his wife and daughter.