Poetry workshop

Arts therapy for people with dementia through poetry and creativity

Arts 4 Dementia works to empower and inspire people with early-stage dementia. Learn how the charity aims to provide arts stimulation within the community through poetry and more.

Research has proven that art therapy can be beneficial for people living with dementia. Art therapies engage attention, provide pleasure and may improve symptoms such as anxiety and apathy.

Created pieces of art can also be helpful in gaining an understanding as to how the person with dementia is feeling. Art can allow people with dementia an outlet that they may not otherwise have - for instance, if there are speech or language problems.

A group activity – such as writing poetry together – may bring communication and social benefits purely through the social interactions.

Participatory arts can help support relationships between the person with dementia and their carer. It can also foster a better sense of community.

Attending a poetry workshop

Arts 4 Dementia is working to empower and inspire people with early-stage dementia and their carers. By collaborating with arts venues, the charity aims to provide arts stimulation within communities across the UK.

Recently, Arts 4 Dementia held a pilot programme dedicated to poetry. Over a short series of weeks, eight workshops took place at the National Poetry Library in London's Southbank Centre.

The sessions were led by two award-winning poets, Nick Makoha and Rachel Long. With the help of dedicated staff and volunteers, people with dementia explored poetry and creative writing in an inclusive, non-elitist way.

At the end of the series of workshops, participants were given a personal folder of their work to take home with them and add to.  

A group of people sat around a large table for the poetry workshop

Photo credit: Jon Holloway, Arts 4 Dementia, and Southbank Centre

We spoke with Nigel Franklin, Arts 4 Dementia's CEO and a Dementia Friend, about the benefits of this programme and others planned for the future:

People with dementia don’t need to be given easy things to do – or worse, be treated like children!'

'At Arts 4 Dementia, we set the bar high. We engage the best workshop leaders we can in the most inspirational venues. We also use the best materials we can - and we see people blown away by their own creativity.

'Our participants have early-stage dementia, so while short-term memory may be diminished, many skills can be retained. They are welcome to read poetry (at their own pace) or ask their companion to read and perhaps write what they have created.

'We give participants time to answer – we don't answer for them – and above all, we show respect and we're never patronising.

The importance of poetry

'Poetry allows freedom of expression and can add warmth and depth to what may start as prose.

'Through poetry, participants access certain images or memories from their lives, and build these fragments together. Older people living with dementia often learnt poems off by heart as a child, and many of these poems are still accessible.'

A woman with dementia writing a poem during the poetry workshop

Photo credit: Jon Holloway, Arts 4 Dementia, and Southbank Centre

An excerpt from a poem written by the group:

Our Bluets

Blue mood  bruises  toxic clouds
beads  sky  watch face  my
t'shirt  Veronica's dress  cashmere
jumper  ink  mood  sea  moon  bright
blue shelves that were meant for
the shed  blue bathroom tiles  glass
bowl filled with bottles of lavender
Windowlene  the Piccadilly Line  my brother's
eyes  letter from my bank  Matisse's
nudes  Bobby in blue  veins  busy killing
bluebottles  icon  hair  bicycle  man's shirt...