Guest blog - by Sharon Adam

There has been a lot of development within professional services towards a more holistic approach for people living with Alzheimer’s. Using creative writing is one example of encouraging social engagement and aiding memory loss.   I have begun to research this idea for a project I am working on at Bath Spa University and am encouraged to see the positive responses from those using this approach. 

Alzheimer’s Support is an award-winning local charity which exists to improve quality of life for families affected by dementia in Wiltshire.  One of the many things they provide is facilitating local activity groups.  To progress my project further, I offered to run a poetry workshop for clients and carers of the Alzheimer’s Support charity at their memory café in Chippenham. 

I began the workshop by asking a little about everyone’s experience of poetry.  I then talked about different poetry styles, whilst emphasising there were no rules.

Focussing on the theme of flowers, I read William Wordsworth’s ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ and was asked to re-read because so many wanted to recite it themselves from memory!  I also read ‘Blue Hydrangeas’ by Gillian Clarke.  We thought about the words we might use, taking a closer look at the flower vases placed on each table to help us. We looked at the pictures I’d brought with me.  Giving time and space for reflection and memories is really important in any type of writing exercise.

Connecting with our hidden side

Pretty soon everyone had something to contribute and those who initially struggled became more at ease - sharing thoughts and memories of gardening, spring and their childhoods. It was challenging but a lot of fun, encouraging memory, social skills and confidence.  Some groups offered to read their poems aloud, one couple becoming a little tearful when reading the poems they had written for each other.  As I spoke with them afterwards she explained how her husband was beginning to struggle with his short-term memory. I thanked them for their authenticity and reassured them that poetry often connects us with a hidden and forgotten side of us all.

She was glad she had come to the session and hoped taking their poetry home would help them to reconnect some of his memories and maybe more poems to share.

Sharon is a Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University and volunteers at our art group in Lyneham.