Poetry helping with Alzheimer

By Drum Digital
22 November 2013

The teenager's voice breaks the silence that hangs over the dozing, grey-haired figures.

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you," she recites -- "you'll be a man, my son", finishes one of the pensioners, with a burst of recognition.

Alzheimer's has stolen most of Margaret's memories, but she can still remember the line from Rudyard Kipling's famous poem that she learnt years ago, a rare moment of clarity in the fog of the cruel disease.

This retirement home in central England is one of many institutions and hospitals across the country turning to poetry to provide some respite from the symptoms of dementia, such as the loss of memory, communication and basic skills.

While it provides no cure, the rhythm and pace of well-known verse can act as a trigger for memories and speech, according to Jill Fraser, whose charity "Kissing it Better" organises reading sessions for the elderly.

If patients "hear one word that they can remember from poetry, it brightens their day up," adds Elaine Gibbs, who runs the Hylands House retirement home in Stratford-upon-Avon -- fittingly, the home of William Shakespeare.


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