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National Poetry Day: the wellness benefits of poetry for older people

Ahead of National Poetry Day, Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing, for Bupa discusses the wellness benefits of poetry for older people.

From boosting mood and offering emotional comfort, poetry can unlock mental health benefits for all ages. Ahead of National Poetry Day (5th October), Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing for Bupa UK, explores what reading poetry can do for the older people, along with tips on helping older people express themselves better through writing and reciting poetry.

Reading poetry out loud can have a profound effect on the emotional wellbeing of older people. Encouraging a loved one to write their own verses of poetry can also encourage them to better understand and express themselves, which may help to reduce feelings of anxiety and isolation.

The wellbeing benefits of poetry include:

1. Emotional expression
For older people, especially those facing ill health or social isolation, poetry can provide a creative outlet for expressing their inner emotions. Poetry can help older people articulate feelings of joy, sadness, nostalgia, and may provide renewed hope for the future. Writing poems about memorable past life experiences, or reciting poems from childhood, provides the opportunity to talk about their past, unlocking feelings of nostalgia and self-reflection which can be beneficial to those suffering with dementia.

2. Improved memory
Research suggests poetry can improve short and long-term memory, listening skills and concentration. Writing or reciting a poem can boost memory too, thanks to rhyme. The brain is naturally receptive to music and rhythm, so when information is presented in a melodic manner like rhyming, it may be easier to retain. As most poetry verses end in a pattern, it may help the brain to anticipate what comes next. This may help with improving concentration, mental agility, and cognitive stimulation in older adults.

3. Help process feelings
Poetry gives older adults the opportunity to put their thoughts and emotions into words. Writing things down can give them a clearer understanding of what they’re feeling and why. Writing can also give an outlet to express emotions they might find difficult to share verbally. This may be particularly helpful if they’re dealing with feelings that are intense or overwhelming for them. Reading poetry can also offer solace, reminding the reader they are not alone, and that others have felt similarly to them at some point.

4. Social interaction
Poetry can encourage interaction, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. Older adults can share poems with family or caregivers, helping them connect with others. Shared reading of poetry in care home setting can also help build feelings of community, creating a shared uplifting group experience.

5. Sense of purpose
Writing and reciting poetry can give older adults a sense of purpose and accomplishment as it offers a creative outlet. Writing poetry can also foster a sense of accomplishment as it can help with setting goals and achieving them. Setting these goals can provide structure and something to look forward to in their daily or weekly routine. Why not challenge them to write a different kind of poem each week? From limericks to haikus, there are lots of formats to experiment with.

If you’re thinking about helping an older loved one embrace the potential wellness benefits of poetry, follow these simple tips:

Start with familiar themes: Writing about what you know is a great way to encourage creativity. Ask them to write down or discuss topics familiar to them, such as family, nature, or past life experiences.

Provide inspiration: Share your favourite poetry books with your loved one – you could even read poems out loud together to help refresh their memory on the various rhythms and forms poetry can have. This may also help you to open a discussion about the poem’s meaning, helping to deepen their understanding of the works of other poets – and maybe even find inspiration!

Break it down: Reduce the pressure on their loved one by encouraging them to write a little each day, instead of expecting them to create a masterpiece in one day. Improvement comes with practice, and setting yourself a writing task as a daily exercise or routine can help slowly build confidence and keep interest.

Keep it simple: Remind your loved one that there are no strict rules in poetry. It’s about self-expression, so they should feel free to experiment with rhyme, rhythm, and form in whatever way suits them.

Encourage recitation: Poetry isn’t just about writing, it’s also about sharing. Encourage them to recite their poems to family, caregivers or other care home residents to help foster a sense of community, develop their confidence and showcase their work.


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