The upside of a long-term care journal

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

It's no secret that professional folk, including those in long-term care, can be asked for help and advice after hours related to their occupation. For every person who has asked a nurse or physician to look at his or her weird mole at a party, there's also a guy who has asked his IT relative for help fixing his computer on a Saturday.

People need breaks, which is one of the reasons why I, like a lot of journalists, am not a huge fan of journaling. I enjoy reading and writing for fun in my spare moments, but I thought writing in a journal to recap my day often seems like more trouble than it's worth.

That was before I went on a two-week vacation to South Africa, a lot of which was spent on game drives in search of lions, African buffalo, cheetahs, leopards, rhinos and African wild dogs. It was a dream come true. (I saw all of the above and more.) But it also helped me realize the importance of writing down what has happened in a given day.

In exciting times, whether it's when work is hectic or because that morning you saw a lion kill or were charged by a vervet monkey, it's easy to think that you will rely on your memory or the many computerized documents you oversee. It's easy to think you'll never forget how you felt when your favorite relative passed away, or the MDS coordinator who flipped out and started yelling at everyone around her.

But that is a fallacy. We know that, in the words of The Memory Institute, “Every waking moment you receive input from your senses and are surrounded by information. There is more input and information than it is reasonable to process. It is not realistic or necessary to remember absolutely everything so you make choices.”

Keeping adequate documentation at work is critically important to resident care. But keeping a personal daily journal will let you process how you felt about the day's events, even if you didn't think much about it at the time, or help you remember what happened when. Sometimes what you don't think is important is what stays in your mind. Humorous essayist David Sedaris described in his latest book about how he has compulsively kept a journal since 1977.

“Some diary sessions are longer than others, but the length has more to do with my mood than with what's been going on,” he wrote. “I met Gene Hackman once, and wrote 300 words about it. Six weeks later, I watched a centipede attack and kill a worm and filled two pages. And I really like Gene Hackman.”

Journaling also can be more than thoughts about the day's events. It doesn't have to be more than a few sentences. Long-term care administrators may want to keep a journal listing each day what they are grateful for, or consider making lists of new people they met, music they like, or books they heard about that they want to read. Don't worry about grammar or handwriting, although I strongly recommend writing a journal in longhand as a way to make it separate from the computers you use all day. You can also choose a journal with a question or prompt on each page, or pick out a favorite pen. Keep the journal is a safe, private place and make sure to write the year at the beginning.

I can all but guarantee you'll reap benefits by doing this for a few minutes every day, far more than posting thoughts on social media. If you have other tips for happy journaling, please post them in the comments section below.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's and the most experienced animal watcher in the office. Follow her @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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