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Engaging Elders in Creative Expression through Poetry

Glazner gives an overview of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project (APP). The talk includes examples to use the core methods of the APP with all elders and in intergenerational settings. The goal of the APP is to improve the quality of life of people living with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia by facilitating creative expression through poetry. The rationale for using poetry with people living with dementia stems from research that show aerobic benefits and increased synaptic activity when reciting poems and significant emotional and psychological benefit from being able to access the creative part of one's identity. APP engages participants in the recitation of well-loved poems and the creation of original poems. We provide training for professional and family caregivers and teaching artists. The result is an innovative, highly replicable arts intervention to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia and their families. Workshops are ongoing and range from weekly to monthly programs.

The artistic focus of the APP is on participant creativity. The project artists build the sessions around well-loved, classic poems. An example would be Emma Lazarus' poem "New Colossus," celebrating the Statue of Liberty, "...Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." We group the poems by theme. We reinforce the theme with props that have texture or fragrance. An example of a prop for a summer theme would be roses. To engage the participants in performance, the session leader uses a "call and response technique," reciting a line from the poem and coaching the group to echo the line. This use of repetition builds on poetry's strength as an oral art form. We use touch therapy and often hold the hands of the participants, moving their hands lightly to reinforce the rhythm of the poem. We use funny poems and encourage the participant's humor.

In creating poems we draw inspiration from the classic poems. We generate the lines of the original poems by asking the participants open-ended questions around the themes and writing down their comments. Listening skills are crucial in creating the new poem. Using the exact language of the participants instead of paraphrases helps strengthen the text. The session ends with the performance of the newly created poem. Perhaps Jean, whom we have had the honor of serving said it best, "I have lived here a year and this is the first time I have sat through an activity to the end. You made us all poets." More info at: alzpoetry.com.

Gary GlaznerGary Glazner

Gary is the founder and Executive Director of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project, (APP).

The National Endowment for the Arts listed the APP as a "best practice" for their 2006 Arts and Aging Initiative. APP received the 2012 MetLife Foundation, "Creativity and Aging in America Leadership Award" in the Community Engagement category. Glazner has given talks at over 30 conferences for among others: the Alzheimer's Association; Alzheimer's Foundation of America; Generations United; National Center for Creative Aging; the University of San Diego, Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer's Disease Research Center; U.S. Embassy in Berlin and the Veteran's Administration teaching over 4,000 healthcare workers and family members on how to use poetry with people living with dementia. NBC's "Today" show, NPR's "All Things Considered" and Voice of America have featured segments on Glazner's work. Harper Collins, W.W. Norton and Salon.com have published his work. Glazner has worked with many institutions using their art to inspire the performance and creation of poetry by people living with memory loss including the Museum of Modern Art. APP is working with the National Center for Creative Aging and other leading dementia arts groups to create a "creativity toolkit," for use by family caregivers to enhance the creativity of their loved ones. APP co-produces a monthly Memory Arts Cafe with New York Memory Center in Brooklyn. Working with the Korean Arts and Culture Education Service and U.S. Embassies in Berlin and Warsaw, APP has expanded programming to South Korea, Germany and Poland, highlighting on an international level the quality of programming APP brings to serving people living with dementia and their care partners. To date the APP has held programming in 24 states and served over 20,000 people living with dementia.