There are many ways to help engage those with dementia to help combat its harmful effects, but one care home in Blantyre, Scotland, is trying something different: Creative writing.

Initial Ideas

Retired nurse Jeanette Laird-Measures initially proposed the idea of allowing residents to express themselves creatively through writing back in 2015, as she believed in would help residents exercise “voice, choice and control.”

After long discussions with care home staff, an initial writing group was set up with residents who volunteered to take part.

The first session involved a group discussion with an area set up containing photographs, objects and paintings based around the theme of nature. Residents were encouraged to look at and engage with the area, as well as answer questions put forward to the group by staff.

Such questions were intended to promote discussion, such as “what does this picture make you think of?”

Laird-Measures recalled that in the discussion, one resident recalled his fond memory of being a bird watcher when he was younger. Upon hearing this, another resident began to talk about her memory of robins and how she would feed them on her way to school every day.

The creative writing process

It was clear the initial session showed some promising results, but more still needed to be done to encourage the residents to put their thoughts and recollections into a form of creative writing.

As such, after further discussion, Resident’s Rag, a newsletter designed by both residents and staff, was created. As the first issue was created around the Christmas period, residents were encouraged to recall their favourite memories of the holiday, allowing a large and rich source of information for the newsletter as well as allowing residents a chance to access old memories with a passion.

Alongside the newsletter, residents were also encouraged to participate in creating a special type of Japanese poetry known as renga. These particular poems consist of only two stanzas and are heavily focused on its creation as a community rather than by an individual, allowing it to be a perfect way for residents to contribute together.

These poems were then put on display in the form of paper chains for staff, family and friends alike to see, allowing the residents to be proud of their achievement, as well as providing a reminder of the contributions they had suggested throughout the experience.

Laird-Measures described the overall experience as hugely beneficial to both residents and staff, and believes it has helped residents exercise their “voice, choice and control.”

Other creative methods

Here in Australia, many care providers are also investing in more creative methods to help residents.

Bondi Junction based home care service Dementia Caring is currently at the forefront of music therapy, where their 12-week programs allow residents to engage with music from their past to encourage old memories to return.

“People have responded very well. It’s lovely to see the change in them after a 12-week program. Anxiety levels drop and well-being improves,” said Dementia Caring CEO Jon Kontopos.