For Later Life 2015: Innovations in dementia

SDP1528-0134Professor Philip Davis, Director of the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRILS) at University of Liverpool, will appear at Age UK’s For Later Life 2015 Conference this November showcasing the latest research on the relationship between literature, shared reading and dementia.

The theme for this year’s For Later Life conference is brain ageing and dementia, and will consider how health and care services can best help older people in an increasingly ageing society to live as well as possible with cognitive decline, in many cases alongside other health conditions.

CRILS is the research partner of The Reader Organisation and most recently published Read to Care, a report evaluating the impacts of engaging with literature,  specifically the shared reading model introduced by The Reader Organisation, amongst people living with dementia. We have been reading in dementia settings since 2006, with the model adapted to make the reading experience more easily accessible and meaningful for group members involved. Examining how shared reading can contribute to an improvement in quality of life for people living with dementia, Read to Care places particular consideration on the impacts of reading poetry in shared reading groups upon mental processes including memory, emotion and personal awareness.

Amongst other findings, Read to Care highlights the connection between literature and memory for those with dementia, whereby poetry that is read acts as a ‘trigger’ to bring participants back to life for the moment they are experiencing, as well as recalling moments from their past. This is evidenced by group members taking part in the study, including Polly, whose story is recounted by the reading group leader:

Polly sometimes struggled to focus on the words on the page but would often comment on the difference that it made when she heard a poem read well. On another occasion Polly responded to certain lines as others were reading the poems, and would comment in sudden little phrases: ‘Oh isn’t that lovely!’

I asked her a question a bit later and she seemed slightly startled, as if she had been thinking. She then said: ‘Do you know what I think. When you’re young, why do you grow up?’ This felt like a very good question to be asking: perhaps somewhat in the spirit of a child, but from an adult’s perspective. The losses in dementia are often like the gains in development when, in the child, they come and go because not yet firmly established as acquired skills. Polly started to speak towards the end of the session of several childhood memories. She spoke of her father, who I had not heard her mention before. He had had a stroke when she was still only young, and Polly said that she couldn’t understand, as a child, why he couldn’t speak. She said there were times when she did not know where he was; she seemed to imply that it felt as if he was not there.

Professor Davis will discuss the relationship between shared reading and dementia and present findings from Read to Care in ‘The arts: case studies in dementia care’ as part of For Later Life 2015 on Wednesday 18th November at BMA House, London. The conference will showcase new approaches in the prevention and treatment of age-related cognitive impairment, innovative policy proposals and promising practice ideas, and the latest research findings.

Places registered before 23rd September 2015 benefit from reduced rates. For more information about the For Later Life Conference, see the Age UK website: www.ageuk.org.uk/forlaterlife or download the conference brochure.

For more about Read to Care and research into shared reading, visit http://www.thereader.org.uk/what-we-do-and-why/research

Volunteers Wanted: Reading with People Living with Dementia in Barnet and Brent

dementia 2One of The Reader Organisation’s largest strands of work is reading regularly with people living with dementia, and we currently have opportunities for people to get involved in volunteering sharing reading in this area across all three of our projects in Barnet and Brent, North London.

The three projects are:

  • Altogether Better (leading reading groups in Community settings for people with dementia and their carers)
  • Reading For The Brain (leading groups and reading One to One both in Care and Community Settings)
  • Jewish Care (leading groups in Care and Day settings with people from early onset to advanced dementia)

Paul Higgins is our Co-ordinator for the Barnet Volunteering Project, and tells us more about the project and its significance to the lives of people taking part:

“Somehow, her Alzheimer’s made her more open, more truthful. There’s a kind of odd poetry in dementia that picks out jagged, glittering pieces of truth and makes you have to reassemble them”.
– Jackie Kay (talking about her mother in Red Dust Road) (2010)

We currently have 17 weekly shared read aloud reading groups spread across both Barnet and Brent, and these take place in both community and care settings. Our groups range from dementia friendly community groups to groups with members in advanced stage dementia, where people still recognise words and lines from poems both old and new.

Through our groups our volunteers are saying to people with dementia and their carers that we value them. By reading with people who may often feel lonely, isolated or frustrated, we take them out of themselves through the stimulation of the book or poem. Opportunity and space is created for the participants to reflect on their life experience, via memories or emotions evoked by the poem or story. Our successful model does not set boundaries in what is possible for people with memory impairment. Through our groups the participants remain creative, engaged and are enabled to better express themselves.

In our reading sessions we introduce quality literature, and this is often poetry with its compressed language,  content, rhythms and rhymes. The conversations that emerge and the smiles that arise out of our reading sessions allow the readers in our dementia group settings to gain freedom, confidence and laughter in place of confusion and confinement.

In dementia linear, controlled time ceases to exist. Connections are made, lost and remade, and found again, continually inside the now of dementia. However, in our groups using our shared read aloud model, the same mind that cannot remember to eat or go the toilet can hold on to the lines of a poem.

This fluidity of time is just one reason that our shared reading projects work for people with dementia. Language is more than words. It is a moment in time that is held in a handful of words and a certain rhythm. All of the emotions connected to the poems that we read together awaken feelings and thoughts in the present, within the session and within the moment.

Our reading model also allows renewed connections to words as expressive language. Whilst the language centres of the brain can be severely affected by the disease processes in many types of dementia, poems and stories can allow someone to connect to words as a means of expression. Feelings and ideas can be shared through the words in the poem. These feelings or ideas might not find any expression in words if the person were left to attempt to put the words together for themselves. Our warm and kind sessions delivered by trained volunteers provide a bridge back to expression in language again.

This is a call to care. A call to bring beauty, humour and meaning to people who are living with Dementia through the power of poetry and prose brought alive in the present moment of the weekly reading session. Come and bring the reading revolution to more Older People in North London by volunteering with The Reader Organisation.

One of our current volunteers is Linda Ward from the Sam Beckman Centre in Hendon. Linda tells her story of what sharing reading with people living with dementia means to her:

I first heard about The Reader Organisation through a request for volunteers sent out by Jewish Care for whom I already volunteer. I met with Paul, the local co-ordinator, and was immediately enthused. I love poetry and the concept was something new. To be reading with people living with dementia was such a wonderful opportunity not just for those I would be reading with but very much on a personal level – to feel I was being of use to the community in a way that would give me immense pleasure.

The training was so interesting; I met some wonderful people who would be working in all different kinds of environments. The trainers were inspiring and incredibly motivating; they provide a wealth of ongoing support and advice. Putting the model into practice was easy; the system is tried and tested and really works extremely well. After my first couple of sessions with a wonderful group of seniors I soon got into the swing of things and I really look forward to each session. No two weeks are the same. There is such a huge source of material from hundreds of years of poetry and prose; it really isn’t difficult to find 2 or 3 pieces each week which will bring members of the group to life in some way – to laugh together, be sad and reflective together – to communicate on whatever level is such a privilege to be the initiator of. 

We have opportunities to volunteer by facilitating groups or reading One to One with people with dementia. Full training and ongoing support is given to all volunteers. Full details of requirements for the role can be found on The Reader Organisation’s website: http://www.thereader.org.uk/working-with-us/volunteering/barnet

For more information and to enquire about volunteering with us in Barnet and Brent, contact Paul Higgins by calling 07985 718744 or email paulhiggins@thereader.org.uk