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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sparking Memories; Alzheimer's Poetry Project Comes to West Philly

Last Tuesday afternoon I played hooky from school, but for a reason that promised to change the quality of life for many, including my own. I participated in the Alzheimer's Poetry Project, which aims to better the lives of those who have Alzheimer's and their many caretakers through the power of poetry. The Alzheimer's Poetry Project was founded in 2004 by poet Gary Glazner, who I had the amazing privilege to meet and work with and learn from this past Tuesday. An added bonus was the honor of working with people with Alzheimer's who attended an adult daycare facility right in my neighborhood.

Here is a couple of lines from the Alzheimer's Poetry Project literature:
" The people we serve are mostly in their late stages of Alzheimer's and have a hard time holding a conversations or in some cases even speaking. When you see and hear them respond to the poem by saying words and lines along with the poet, it can be quite moving. When you hear them laugh at a funny poem or see their tears start to flow when hearing a poignant poem, the effectiveness of reading these old poems that these patients learned as children is apparent. APP is about sparking memories".

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests reciting poetry increases synaptic activity and reduces stress. Poetry promotes brain power.

Mr. Glazner, who facilitated the workshop, was so friendly and inviting that he even let my mom and I participate many times, even though we had no experience with this project. He seamlessly included everyone and was quite successful in getting participation from all who were present. I learned a lot just by participating.

At first, I have to admit, I was quite scared. I had to stand in front of many Alzheimer's victims and repeat lines from classic poems along with Mr. Glazner. Then, I just summoned the courage I use when give poetry readings in other settings. I had such a blast after my confidence had a bit of a boost and the audience responded with lots of enthusiasm. We recited poems together that many of the participants might have learned as young students in school: poems like Poe's The Raven, Wordsworth's I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, Burgess' The Purple Cow and we made our own poem based on spring inspired by Langston Hughes' April Rain Song. It was so moving to see how those with Alzheimer's, who at first seemed so disconnected from the outside world, came alive and actively participated in responding to Mr. Glazner's directions and questions and participated in creating a group poem about spring.

I felt like I accomplished something incredibly important that day. I remember Mr. Glazner asking me, " When you got out of bed this morning, did you think to yourself you would be doing this today?", and the honest answer was no. It was an afternoon full of serendipity.

Participating in the Alzheimer's Poetry Project allowed me to discover another way of encouraging my grandmother, who has Alzheimer's, to be creative. She loves this very long poem by Langston Hughes called The Negro Mother. I am so impressed by how much of it she has remembered and she beams when she recites it.

Happy Mother's Day, Nanny.

Also, I want to give a big thank you to Larry Robin and Ray Garman ,of Moonstone Arts Center, who are working with Gary Glazner to establish a Alzheimer's Poetry Project here in Philadelphia.

Alzheimer's Poetry Project
Moonstone Arts Center

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