The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for aged care residents, who have found themselves cut off from family and friends in an increasingly stressful and uncertain situation. Even the simple pleasures of reading a good book have been taken away, as communal books have been removed from aged care homes and local libraries closed for borrowing.
But a new program seeks to provide aged care residents with reading material, and the added stimulation of providing feedback to the writers. Pages for Wisdom pairs residents in aged care facilities with new and established writers, offering the opportunity for residents to provide feedback on works in progress.
The idea behind the program
Pages for Wisdom was founded by Chelsea Dynan, a psychologist with experience working as a palliative care counsellor. Currently on maternity leave with her second daughter, Mrs Dynan has been writing and reflecting on her experiences with palliative patients. ‘I found myself reflecting on the frailty of our aged community and how one person can have such a substantial impact,’ she says.
Aware of the challenges that residential facilities were facing during lockdowns, Mrs Dynan was inspired to combine her own love of writing and her experiences with aged care residents. ‘I really wanted to merge these worlds,’ she says. ‘Improving mental health through creative connection.’
Other programs have used writing as a way to foster connection and assuage the pressures of isolation, such as the letter writing Seniors and Teens Empathy Program, run by social enterprises Heart and Soul Story. But Mrs Dynan felt it was important for residents to have the opportunity to engage in adult interactions as well.
How does it work?
Residents at aged care homes are asked for their personal preferences when it comes to written material. Options include fiction and non-fiction, and different genres from crime to romance to fantasy. Residents can also decide on their preferred word count, either opting for short stories and poetry, or committing to longer manuscripts.
Writers have been encouraged to submit their work, which is then distributed within facilities. Residents read and provide feedback on the written work.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement, Mrs Dynan notes. ‘I believe Pages for Wisdom allows for a valued interaction,’ she says. ‘[Residents] take on a purposeful role in the process of providing feedback, and enjoying new pieces of writing.’
For writers, it offers the important opportunity to receive feedback and critique for an unbiased audience. ‘Writers are faced with many challenges, particularly building confidence in their work,’ Mrs Dynan says. ‘This program opens the door to reaching a wider audience or demographic and pushing past the dreaded blank page. Hopefully it will open the doorway to consider a mature minded reader.’
Feedback from the community
Unsurprisingly, aged care facilities have been eager to work with Mrs Dynan and engage residents in the writing program. ‘The responses have been extremely positive,’ Mrs Dynan says. Although it’s still early days for the program, already aged care homes are finding creative ways to incorporate it into everyday activities. Residents are meeting in groups or individually with carers to read pieces of writing aloud, discuss the work, and then provide feedback.
The writing community has embraced the concept as well. ‘Interest in contributing to the program has been phenomenal,’ Mrs Dynan says. With the program still in its infancy, she is already receiving enquiries daily. Established authors have also jumped on board to help promote the initiative, including Melbourne-based writers Meg Dunley and Emily Brewin.
A future beyond lockdown
Although Pages for Wisdom grew from the challenges of the pandemic, Mrs Dynan hopes the program will continue long after lockdowns cease. ‘I am really excited to see this program blossoming, and I hope it continues outside of these uncertain times,’ she says.
Currently she is focusing on her home state of Victoria when contacting aged care facilities, but she hopes the program can expand around Australia. ‘I would also like to see this program run in other residential care facilities, disability, palliative, or foster homes,’ she notes.
And the range of writing will grow too. Buoyed with the initial positive response, Mrs Dynan wants to contact university students enrolled in writing courses to develop a relationship between them and an aged care writing mentor. Additionally, she will contact publishing houses.
Pages for Wisdom is a fantastic example of a positive outcome from a challenging time, offering aged care residents and new writers alike a constructive and affirming experience.
You can find out more about Pages for Wisdom by visiting their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pagesforwisdom