Created, developed and founded in 2003 by Gary Glazner, the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project uses interactive poetry readings to improve the quality of life for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.
Thanks to the project, some people with dementia can express themselves through poetry. For others, it can reduce social isolation and boost social and intellectual capacities.
In a typical APP session, a skilled facilitator and participants recite poems and use songs with movement. The session features a high-energy rhythmic poem and fun and creative vocal performances.
The hour-long session is a call and response interaction, in which the facilitator recites a line from a familiar poem and participants repeat it. This repetition has been shown to tap into established long-term memories. Clapping with the metric verses of the poem helps greater group interaction, and the use of props to accompany the readings builds capacity and fosters enthusiasm and participation. Props can be great starting points for discussion after you have finished reading the poem, especially if they offer sensory experiences, such as fragrant flowers or freshly baked cookies.
It is not uncommon for the group to create their own poem from the closing discussion.
Call and response mantras are infused into our culture, from traditional religious ceremonies to various musical genres and education. Understanding how the call and response work at the neurological level can help explain the phenomena seen in APP sessions where participants with dementia echo verses of poetry, remember poems learned in their youth, and remember events of previous sessions.
According to a memory model proposed in 1968 by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin, echogenic memory is the replication of a sound shortly after its end. When people with dementia repeat a line of poetry, they can demonstrate that they still have the ability to access the phonological loop responsible for processing auditory and verbal information.
Since the inception of the APP, facilitators have consistently reported positive results. Class participation and attention improved, as well as participants’ communication and general mood.
Additionally, facilitators noticed that participants were able to create new memories by demonstrating their ability to remember content through poetry sessions. For more information on the Alzheimer Poetry Project, visit alzpoetry.com.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, owner of Dana Territo Consulting, LLC, at [email protected]