Poetry readings stimulating people with dementia

Back in August last year we reported in our blog that the creative arts, particularly art and music, can have powerful beneficial effects on people’s health and wellbeing, particularly the elderly.

We know, for example, that joining in with hymns in church, or in a service on our own premises, has a soothing effect and can help to diminish the severity of the symptoms of dementia.

We’re always on the lookout for ideas and activities for all our residents, but especially for those with dementia.

Recently, we discovered that a charity in Liverpool that has been running shared readings in local care homes has found that it has “a significant impact on mood, concentration and social interaction”.

An article in the Guardian cited the example of how a volunteer had read out a poem, called “Going downhill on a bicycle” by Henry Charles Beeching  and found that not only were some of the residents mouthing the words and others following the text with their fingers, it had stimulated one elderly resident to reminisce about riding his bicycle to work.

This then prompted further discussion among the group about bicycles, riding down hills and other topics of conversation.

The effect has been consistent with residents participating and stimulating discussion, sometimes drawing in residents normally known to not talk much if at all.

The charity has found that effects of shared reading aloud work best with poetry rather than with short stories or other prose.

But it’s not only the residents themselves who benefit. The process has stimulated memories and talk about things that perhaps their loved ones and the care home staff have never heard from them before, giving them a glimpse of the person who was there before dementia got in the way.

It seems there is power in rhythm, in the strength of language and in the generally short and fairly simple structure of poetry that can unlock what prose cannot.

It has been speculated that many of the generation currently resident in care homes will have been made to learn poems by heart at school and that the poetry reading groups in the homes unlocked something embedded deeply in the participants.

So, along with encouraging visitors, children and pets to come in, as well as all the activities we already offer, we have found something else that can add to the mix that goes into creating a dementia-friendly community environment for our residents here at Aveley Lodge.