Poetry and dementia

Poetry and dementia

If the person you care for has dementia, you may have noticed their withdrawal from conversations, movies, even from reading books or the newspaper. Anything with an involved plot line is now too difficult for them to follow.

Poetry, on the other hand, involves rhythm and images, which can stimulate memories of experiences, emotions, smells, tastes, and other sensations. All quite accessible by persons with dementia. Plus, many older adults went to school when poetry was an active part of the curriculum. Exploring fun poetry together may tap into positive memories from the past.

The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project has developed several ways to use poems as a window of connection.

If your loved one can still read
Consider printing out a few poems to read together. Read slowly enough that your relative can follow, but fast enough that the rhythm is evident. Even if they can’t read aloud, they can enjoy hearing the spoken words and following along. Shared reading provides a rare sense of belonging.

Ask questions drawing on the five senses
Poems with strong images work well. For instance, if you are reading A Red, Red Rose by Robert Burns, ask, “Were there roses in your garden?” “What does a red rose smell like?” “Did you ever get pricked by a thorn?” Or for Going Down Hill on a Bicycle by Henry Charles Beeching ask, “What was it like for you, riding a bike? Did you feel like you were flying?”

Humorous poems
Silly poems may resonate more than serious ones. (The Purple Cow) Or try limericks. They are often funny and the rhythm is infectious.

Finding poems
Do a Google search by topic, such as “tree poems,” or the name of a favorite poet. You can also find poems online at the Academy of American Poets.