|Photo by Marc Moss|
Unfortunately, more research to date has been done with diseased older adults as opposed to healthy older adults. Older adults would benefit from learning what changes might be disease related and what changes are normal and expected as part of healthy aging. Gerontologists and other scholars are now starting research to rectify this ommission in the literature. Nevertheless, some research exists here and there that describes healthy aging.
For example, T. L. Mitzer and S. Kemper published a study in 2003 that analyzed the biographical statements of 118 older women (ages 78 to 91) in an effort to find an explanation for what contributed to stronger writing samples. Strong writing samples did not correlate to the writer's age. Instead, strong writing was produced by those who were in better physical condition, had higher educational levels and higher cognitive status. The high-level writing samples had the following characteristics: less-varied vocabulary, longer utterances, more clauses per utterance, more grammatically complex structures, fewer fragments.
Also interesting was that these language strengths were more pronounced in the written samples of high-performing participants than in their oral statements. This finding makes me reconsider some assumptions about gleaning personal history from older adults. I assumed that making audio recordings might allow older adults more sophisticated modes of self-expression. This study suggests that healthy, educated, cognitively in tact older adults will be more articulate writers than speakers.
Just as with other abilities, writers can preserve their abilities a bit longer with regular practice. Even though the phrase "use it or lose it" can be applied to the preservation of writing ability, there are some age-related concerns for older writers. For example, speech, language pathologist Angela Burda makes these observations. Older adults need to maintain good eye health and keep a current prescription for their eye glasses. Also, working memory becomes increasingly compromised for older adults, which means that they will need more time and additional strategies for planning and organizing their writing. Aging may also limit the writer's vocabulary, spelling, and sentence structure by degrees.
The writer's physical space and writing tools should be tailored to their changing needs. Older adults benefit from having fewer distractions and more time when composing, so working at a kitchen table while other family members zoom around would not be ideal. They also might have problems grasping a pen or pencil, so a gripper might help. They will also need more time and a clutter-free space in order to co-ordinate physical movement from their notes to the keyboard. They may need additional support if using computer technology, especially if they upgrade to a new software program.
If an older adult is showing rapid changes in his or her writing, there may be a medical problem contributing. The problem could be minor or severe. Depression, polypharmacy, malnutrition, and cognitive problems such as dementia or Parkinson's disease may be contributing to writing changes.
Even though writers do not have a Grandma Moses icon to inspire them to achieve later in life, there are many people who continute to compose or start to compose online and offline in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Invite your friends and relatives who are a generation above you to put their ideas in writing.
If you have a plan to write the great American novel, do not delay. If you wait until your sunset years, expect the task to take you a little more time and the writing to be a little less complex in diction, sentence style and overall structure.
Do you have anything in writing from your parents or grandparents? Do you write regularly? Have you written your own life sketch? Leave a comment below.
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