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Alzheimer’s Poetry Project: Connecting Patients to Memory Through Language

Gary Glazner is primarily a poet, but he’s found his niche in a most surprising place–at nursing homes and adult day care facilities in 20 U.S. states and Germany.

Since 2004, Glazner has been visiting elderly dementia patients in the Santa Fe, New Mexico, area (and beyond) as part of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. The goal is to bring new life and joy to people with memory loss problems. So far, he has been to more than 100 facilities and recited poetry with more than 15,000 dementia patients.

In his poetry sessions, Glazner uses a call-and-response method, wherein he recites poetry line by line and his “students” repeat each line after him. Sometimes the classes are held in a nursing home or other type of elder care facility. But it’s even better when Glazner gets to take some of the more mobile patients to a park for a nice walk. The combination of exercise, a lovely change of scenery, and some inspirational poetry makes the best medicine for dementia patients. Glazner says:

I think that’s the thing we can learn from people living with dementia, is that they live in the moment, and in that moment, if we’re playful and we’re joking around and we’re doing poetry together, it’s just beautiful.

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Recently, the project became part of a study by Professor Kate de Medeiros at Miami University in Ohio that found poetry recitation can make Alzheimer’s patients more vocal and more social, which improves their quality of life. Before Glazner’s work, not enough had been done with Alzheimer’s patients and poetry to make a study of this nature possible. Now, thanks to Glazner and Medeiros, we know much more about improving the quality of life for dementia patients.

This playful engagement with language in dementia patients is bringing new life and sometimes old memories to these people. Glazner says:

It can be a devastating disease, but there can be moments of joy and there can be laughter and more smiles.

Check out the news story below to learn more about the program and see it in action. Then click here to learn about how dementia and the resources we have for awareness and treatment of dementia is different for Latino populations than Caucasian groups.

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?