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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

BTG COVID-19 Ep. 15: The Power of Writing with Motivator Angela Burton

BTG COVID-19 Ep. 15: The Power of Writing with Motivator Angela Burton

This series is designed to provide resources, share the love stories and encourage those who are overseeing the care of aging adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe in you!

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas on our series dedicated to COVID-19 and the thought leaders in the industry that we can bring on to bring you relevant information to both educate you and hopefully inspire you during these times of new normal that we’re in. So we’ve brought on another alumni to the podcast. We’ve brought on our writing expert, Angela Burton from Feet to the Fire writing workshops. Welcome back to the program.


Angela: Thank you. I’m so glad to be here from Louisville.


Lucas: Exactly. Well, we’re glad that you’re back on because you know, we were, we had the pleasure of meeting you. I believe that was a season two episode, but we were able to actually talk to a couple of your students and hear their stories. And Josh, I vividly remember that experience as being really out of the hundreds of episodes that we’ve recorded over a hundred episodes will be recorded, it still gives me goosebumps remembering the stories that they read. 


Josh: Yeah. It was a wonderful time in Louisville that we spent with Angela and I know we refer to them as students, but I felt like the student. They were definitely teaching us their beautiful writing abilities and teaching us from their life experience. You know, that’s something that’s so valuable from older adults who have lived longer, experienced more. 


And, you know, I think about, I actually thought about that a lot right now: the value that our seniors have in times like this just from an historical, emotional… You think the generation that we’re caring for right now has lived through some very tough times. They may not have lived through a world pandemic, but you think about depression and economic recessions, multiple ones, different leaderships and, and all the good times, the bad times. And they’re still, there’s still around kicking and being useful and meaningful and it tells you that life goes on and we get through these struggles. And I can only imagine Angela that the writing in times like these would just be even more relevant.


Angela: Absolutely. Writing is one of the most useful tools that we have available to us and you know, to be able to use a time like this helps us to process what’s going on, right? And it also helps us to kind of voice inside of us that, you know, we really do need to find to calm ourselves sometimes to put into perspective, you know, what, what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling. It’s, it’s a different kind of way to be able to process information than it is to talk to somebody sometimes. So writing is, it’s at our disposal. And you know, in my humble opinion, I think we should be using it, especially in senior living where we have people who are literally sheltering in their rooms as they need to, to not spread this disease, but who are also potentially becoming threatened with loneliness and isolation, which we know is really detrimental to our health.


Josh: So there’s all kinds of challenges right now that seniors are facing, humans are facing, senior living, communities are facing particularly with isolating ourselves socially. You’ve talked, we’ve talked on this show and I think we all understand there’s definite disadvantages to that to us from even an emotional standpoint. But in times like this, there’s still ways that writers and those that may not consider themselves, writers can use writing as sort of a therapy, right?


Angela: Correct. Most people are programmed, I would say 99.9% of people in our program don’t necessarily consider themselves a writer. You know, they, they don’t. But you know, once, once we get across the point that we are just in the process of writing, that’s a whole different way to look at this. And if people have a sense of purpose as a reason to do this at all, it really helps them take up their time in the day. Wonderful, you know, way to spend your time. 


We have a lot of thoughts going through our heads anyway, but to be able to write them down and make some sort of sense out of them is really important. And writing is a tool that we all can do, right? We all can use. You need paper and you need a pen at the very least. And of course you possibly need some ideas and some prompts and that can get you going. People can also use computers, they can use tablets, they can use, you know, whatever they have available and they feel comfortable with. But I would say yes, most people do not consider themselves a writer, but if we can get them to think about, I’m just going to be in the process of writing down my thoughts and feelings right now, that’s helpful to them. That’s helpful to them. It’s also probably helpful to their caregivers. Absolutely.


Josh: So Angela, one of the things right now, you know, most of the communities are, many of the communities and residents probably have access to some form of internet in their rooms, whether they utilize that or not. Some of the community leaders, many of the community leaders actually, will probably see this show and I’ve seen your show before when you were on a previous episode with us, If you were talking to the seniors right now and they were say, watching this on YouTube in a day or two and you were giving them encouragement on areas such as, hey, you don’t have to think of yourself as a rider. Here’s how you can express your thoughts. Here’s maybe one or two things to get yourself started on an independent therapy. Like what would be your step-by-step if you were talking to the seniors right now?


Angela: I would say if somebody has, has never embraced this process, okay, and they are sitting in their room watching the news, getting more anxious as they watch the news, having little to no contact with their friends, right, in the community. I would say think about your family because they, they do think about their families. Think about your children and your grandchildren and your great grandchildren and start with even letters. Letters to their family so that they can communicate. What’s it like to be where you are right now in your room going through what you’re going through? The literal. 


And then also they will probably start thinking backward in time because they’ll think about what it was like for them when they were children. You know, some of these people grew up during the depression, right? And so they go back to the time of, I was 11 years old or 10 years old or whatever when World War II was happening. And I remember food rations and I remember that. And they will automatically start to compare life now with life then. 


And then it becomes an interesting kind of a communication because they are able to give advice, right? And when people give advice, especially the older community, I think they feel very useful and purposeful, right? And that aspect alone, giving advice to your younger ones is valuable. It’s incredibly valuable. So you’ve got the younger ones receiving the advice and hopefully they listen and then you’ve got the older people feeling useful and feeling like they have a voice. 


And that is really important, I think to life purpose and feeling like you have something to say. You are needed. We know there’s studies that have been done then that are being done about life, purpose and longevity. And so we know that if we can keep ourselves busy, and I don’t mean just busy work, busy, but getting out of bed every day busy, like I have something to complete today. It will ultimately help us feel better about ourselves and our lives. And  it’s as simple as that.


But writing is such an easy thing to do because you don’t need a lot of gizmos to do it, right? But even something like writing a letter to your loved ones, that’s a good start. We find that once people start writing, they don’t usually want to stop because it’s a process that they feel invigorated by. They feel challenged by, they feel like they are literally having something to say and that’s really, really important. So does that, yeah. I don’t know if that helps you understand.


Lucas: Yeah. Talk to us about the sharing process clearly. You know, your work style, your workshops may be you know, a little bit different right now and there may be tools in the future to leverage some technology. But despite this disruption there’s probably someone somewhere either via phone or on social media or a caregiver or someone in the community that for these seniors, if they’re writing, they could share it with. Talk to us about that process in particular, no matter how it’s done. How is that empowering as a part of this process?


Angela: Well, I’d first say that sharing is the other side of this coin, right? You write something and it’s wonderful that you’ve written it, but to be able to share the other side and the next step, it’s an integral part of this process because when people share what they’ve written, they are connecting with other people. And so connection is tremendous now, obviously, social connection. That has been something that I think all communities are struggling with. How do we connect people? There are technology ways to do this, there’s ways through technology. 


If there are, you know, systems whereby information is shared naturally through the television, through the phone, through any kind of means like that, I think that would be useful to be able to share stories. I’ve seen plenty of videos now they’re starting to collect on social media, which is wonderful about showing residents sitting in their doorways, right? And they’re listening to music. They may be meditating. They are literally able to connect with each other by, you know, having some initial person, maybe it’s a life enrichment person at the end of the hall and they are early maybe reading, playing music. But I think that that’s another way that these stories can be shared to the group as a whole. And I think that that’s important. Technology can be utilized and I think a lot of these communities have the existing technology, they just haven’t been called upon to use it in such a way.


Josh: Yeah, totally agree. And I think what I’m hopeful is two things happen from this discussion and that is this gets into the hands of our residents and then our communities and encourages them that they do have a purpose and part of that purpose right now maybe sharing life experiences and encouragement because of what they’ve been through and what they’ve learned that they can pass to the next generation. And the generations behind them through encouragement and life experience. And then second that many of our teams out there that are working with these residents on the front lines, trying to keep them encouraged and engaged, will understand that maybe they hadn’t thought about writing or writing workshop as an idea that this is a fairly independent exercise that can be very therapeutic and then get creative with the technologies that they all have at their fingertips regardless of how how their community is designed, that they can help the residents share this encouragement to their families, their friends, other community members and even to the general public. It’s definitely loves stories that I know we would love to hear about and share on this platform.


Angela: Absolutely. And I’ve been brainstorming with, you know, some of our clients on how they can continue the writing workshop because it’s so important to them. Obviously they’ve got a lot of people that are used to this process and something as simple as picking up a phone and dialing into a conference line at least allows them to connect to each other in a very basic way. If they want to get fancier about it, they could use a Zoom-like feature and they could have faces and voices and all that. And, and a lot of these communities actually have that in place. So there’s ways to do it. I just think that, you know, life enrichment staff is looking, they’re looking for ways to engage their residents and you can tell that they are very I don’t want to say desperate, but maybe desperate to figure out ways to engage their residents. And writing is an easy way to do it.


Lucas: That’s so great. Angela, great practical tips for today and ways to engage. We’re so thankful. I know that our audience is probably going to want to contact you. You’re always great and willing to, you know, to engage in conversation. We really do appreciate that. So we’ll connect with you and your writing workshop information in our show notes. We’re wishing you the best. And all of our healthcare heroes out there, the frontline staff, the executive directors, the nurses, the activity directors, everybody at the community, we just hope that this gives you a little bit of inspiration today and just know that we believe in you. We’re rooting for you and thinking and praying for you. 


Angela, have a beautiful day. Thank you so much for being on our show and thanks everybody for listening to Bridge the Gap.

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BTG COVID-19 Ep. 15: The Power of Writing with Motivator Angela Burton