The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project was launched more than a decade ago by poet Gary Glazner. Its goal is simple and direct: use poetry to help people with Alzheimer’s reconnect to memories.
To that end, Glazner teaches workshops to help caregivers learn how they can use poetry in dealing with their loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
For many people, poetry is something that is picked up early in childhood. Nursey rhymes are among the earliest forms of literature to which children are exposed. And the combination of rhyme and rhythm makes it easier for children to memorize and remember childhood poems.
By the same token, the sense of rhythm and rhyme stays with people far past childhood. Many adults, including those with Alzheimer’s, have easier access to nursery rhymes from decades ago than to memories of more recent vintage. Many home caregivers find that they can use nursery rhymes to help a dementia patient reconnect, to form a link of recognition.
But that sense of recognition doesn’t stop with nursery rhymes. Song lyrics, another form of poetry, also can have a strong recognition factor for many people with dementia. This is especially true of songs that may have special meaning to a person.
How can a caregiver use poetry to help in their everyday interactions with a person with Alzheimer’s?
If a patient is getting agitated, using a nursery rhyme or familiar song can help to bring them to a more “grounded” state.
Associating a poem with an activity can help in a transition. For example, a nursery rhyme like “This is the way we wash our hands” can help transition into getting ready for dinner.
Making up easy rhymes can sometimes help a person with dementia to remember things better. For example, “Moon is in the sky, time for beddy-bye.”
Not every person with Alzheimer’s will respond to poetry, of course. But it may be worthwhile to try and see how a loved one reacts.