Diary writing has, it seems, existed, since the dawn of civilization. Egyptians and Romans were known to keep daily logs of construction projects. Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, documented his personal views on philosophy and self-improvement in Mediations. “Notes to Myself was essentially a stack of yellow sheets (which I called my diary) where I went to sort things out, where I put down my pains and problems, and my very deep longing to break through to some truth”, says the famed author High Prather.
Writing has been seen and experienced by many as a form of self-healing. This has evolved into writing therapy – a contemporary medical manifestation of Journaling or Diary Writing. Research in the last couple of decades has demonstrated the benefits of keeping a diary (we’ll call it journaling here) in reducing anxiety, managing depression and even improving our immune function.
Caregivers of people with dementia often feel overwhelmed with their duties of caring. Stress, anxiety and depression are unintended fallouts of caregiving. Caregivers are thus advised to keep a journal of notes to themselves as well as observations of the person they are caring for.
So, what might be the benefits of journaling for a dementia caregiver?
#1: Objective log of observations
A caregiver is in the best position to see the changes and experience events related to the person they are caring for. Such observations are especially valuable when they pertain to areas that are hard to monitor or detect without human support, such as – issues with eating, outbursts of behaviorial issues, low mood, feelings of anxiety, etc. Keeping a detailed journal of these issues in the person with dementia can provide deep insights to a clinician, coach or professional caregiver and could lead to caregiver strategies to reduce occurrence of such issues
#2: Observing trends
As the volume of data from journals increases trends can begin to emerge that can hold valuable information to help with caregiving. For e.g.: a caregiver recording poor mood on days that also coincided with poor sleep quality and irritation (as also recorded by the caregiver in her journal) can easily lead to the caregiver being educated on sleep hygiene practices to be implemented allowing the person with dementia to sleep better, resulting in better mood and lower episodes of irritation or anger.
#3: Notes to yourself
Expressive writing and documenting negative feelings have been shown in controlled experiments to reduce stress, anxiety and depressive thoughts. Such writing helps you put a structure and organization around those anxious feelings and helps accept and then get past them. This is seen as a beneficial process for caregivers who can often suffer in isolation with little recourse to professional help.
#4: Aid to memory
A set of detailed observations along with your own notes in your journal can be very helpful when you are at a doctor’s appointment with your loved one. Trying to recall what happened last week, let alone last month or a few months earlier can be challenging. Poor recall could also result in loss of information that could help with either appropriate modification of treatments or improving caregiver strategies.
Caregivers should use journaling as a way to help prioritize problems and fears. Writing helps confront your thoughts, which could help identify stressors. As caregivers get adept at identifying stressors (this will take practice) solutions to relieve stress can be more accurately designed and implemented.
Journaling, when combined with other elements of self-care such as physical activity, cognitive stimulation, social interactions, mindfulness, respite care and coaching can make caregiving easier and effective.
1. Zauszniewski J A et al (2016), Resourcefulness training for Women Dementia Caregivers: Acceptability and Feasibility of Two Methods, Issues in Mental Health Nursing
2. Smyth J et al (2002); The writing cure: How expressive writing promotes health and emotional well-being, American Psychological Association.
3. Pennebaker, J.W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science