Created, developed and founded in 2003 by Gary Glazner, the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project uses interactive poetry readings to enhance quality of life for those with Alzheimer’s disease and their families.
Through the project, some people with dementia can express themselves through poetry. For others, it can reduce social isolation and stimulate social and intellectual abilities.
In a typical APP session, a trained facilitator and participants recite poems and use songs with movement. The session includes a high-energy, rhythmic poem and using voice renditions that are funny and creative.
The hourlong session is a call-and-response interaction, in which the facilitator recites a line of a familiar poem and the participants repeat it. This repetition has been shown to tap into established long-term memories. Clapping with the poem’s metrical verses assists in greater group interaction, and using props to accompany the readings builds capacity and promotes enthusiasm and participation. The props can be great discussion starters as the reading of the poem is finished, especially if the props offer sensory experiences, such as fragrant flowers or fresh baked cookies.
It's not uncommon for the group to create its own poem out of the closing discussion.
Call-and-response mantras are infused in our culture, from traditional religious ceremonies to various music genres and education. Understanding how call-and-response works at a neurological level may help to explain the phenomena observed in APP sessions where participants with dementia echo lines of poetry, recall poems learned in their youth, and remember events from prior sessions.
According to a model of memory proposed in 1968 by Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin, echoic memory is the replication of a sound shortly after it is finished. When people with dementia repeat a line of poetry, they may be demonstrating that they still have the ability to access the phonological loop responsible for processing auditory and verbal information.
Since the inception of APP, facilitators have consistently reported positive outcomes. Class participation and attention improved, as well as communication and overall general moods of the participants.
Additionally, facilitators noticed that participants were able to create new memories as they demonstrated the ability to recall content through the poetry sessions. For more information on the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project, visit alzpoetry.com.