Have you ever been in the throes of writing to find yourself writing something you didn’t know you knew? Have you ever wondered about the dreamstate you slip into, which allows you to inhabit other lives? How does this work?
For me, and I think for many of you as well, the writing process can be therapeutic, write or die, but it has also now been found to be beneficial to people afflicted with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
The Alzheimer’s Association is working with writers to connect people in the early stages of the disease to writing groups. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but they have found that with early diagnosis you can still construct a life in front of the advancing darkness. It is essential to begin while the patient is in the early stages of the disease, but many people are in denial. Hence, precious time is lost. In recent polls it has been discovered that people are more afraid of contacting Alzheimer’s than heart disease or cancer. Working with writers groups, the Alzheimer’s Association is helping people afflicted with this tragic disease to seize the opportunity to say what they want to say while still cognizant, before their knowledge of what went before is lost forever.
So let us open our minds to this possibility: that a person can write something down they didn’t know they knew. Writing is a form of memory, and we use a different part of our brain when we write. Thus it has been discovered that an Alzheimer’s patient can write something down they have actually forgotten. In fact, the next day they've forgotten that they wrote it. But there it is, proof on the page, visible and tangible.
I find this to be such an interesting concept, that there is a special area of the brain that clicks into overdrive when we write. Can it be that this ties into the “vivid and continuous dream” that John Gardner (my favorite writer on writing) talked about? Writing is nothing if not a mysterious process.
Verbal exchange is invisible and intangible, while writing lasts. When these patients write something down in their writing group, they are entrusting their memory to someone else. If you can give something away you don’t lose it.
Alzheimer’s patients lose so much of their identity as they start to lose simple things like the ability to drive a car and plan their day. If we can help them preserve some of their memories for themselves and their loved ones, then this is a noble endeavor. There is no nobler profession than writing.