READ Saskatoon has been promoting and providing literacy programming to meet community needs since 1979. In 2002, it received funding to launch a special program “Where We Live and Learn—Seniors, Literacy, and Community,” involving seniors’ participation in increased literacy activities. The project’s continued success prompted READ Saskatoon to study the direct links between seniors’ health and their literacy activities. Seniors’ participation in creative writing workshops in this program, “(re)Writing our Futures,” provided the backdrop for such a study. The results are captured in Lynne Townsend’s report, READ Saskatoon: Literacy Health Benefits Research.
During the course of a twelve week writing workshop, Townsend and READ Saskatoon staff periodically distributed a questionnaire to participating seniors to measure health changes, and utilized writing exercises to gain insight into the workshop’s effects on participants’ mental state. Individual interviews were also held to explore some of the issues raised by earlier results.
Both the questionnaires and interviews revealed considerable diversity in seniors’ reasons for participating in the writing workshop, such as improving writing skills, needing help with specific writing projects, like a family history or stories to leave to their grandchildren, or enjoying the social aspect of the group activity. When asked to evaluate the program’s benefits, many cited improvement in their writing skills, the pleasure of being in the company of others, and the workshop’s therapeutic value.
Using a self-report method, questionnaires helped determine the degree of stress that participants were feeling at various stages of the writing group, what outlets they utilized to relieve that stress, their degree of socialization with friends and family, and, in general, their sense of well-being during the workshop’s span. Outside factors (deaths, illness, other commitments), not surprisingly, tended to increase seniors’ stress levels. However, the participating seniors regarded writing as both a useful means of combating stressful situations and improving self-perception. In general, writing created a positive experience.
This study determined that, while unable to prevent stress in seniors, writing and the writing workshop were effective means of mitigating stressful events in their lives and improving general well-being. Such results suggest the virtues of continuing or expanding such a program for the elderly