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Creative Tips for Talking With Your Loved One With Dementia (Ep #033)

Jan 22, 2020


In my work with people caring for loved ones with dementia, I often hear that it can be hard to connect with a loved one as the illness progresses. Comments like: "they've become a stranger to me" or "I don't even recognize them anymore".

Dementia is a devastating illness that often robs families of the opportunity to connect and experience joy.  Because of this, it's essential that we find a way to share connecting moments, enjoy one another, and see a little piece of the person eclipsed by the shadow of this devastating illness.

And, I have just the person to help us with this!

In this week's episode of the Caring for Aging Parents Show, I interview Gary Glazner, the founder and Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. In this interview, Gary generously shares with us four strategies for using poetry to enhance connection with our loved ones with dementia and he even shares about his own experience bringing poetry to his mom at the end of her life.



Gary gives real life and tactical examples of how you can use these strategies in a group or one-on-one. If you're caring for an aging parent with dementia, or simply value human connection, this is a must watch episode!



 Here’s a sneak peek at what you’ll learn from my interview with Gary Glazner:

  • [04:06] Gary talks about using poetry with his mom in her final month of life. The good, the bad, and the hummingbird feeder.
  • [07:51] Relationships with our aging parents are not always easy. Gary opens up about his relationship with his mom.
  • [08:55] Gary shares the first of four techniques for using poetry, Call and Response
  • [11:36] There are many challenges that come with caregiving. Gary describes how the use of poetry help to foster joy and emotional connection.
  • [12:30] Gary describes three dementia arts groups (links below)
  • [13:02] Gary shares why the technique of call and response is so powerful to people living with dementia.
  • [16:14] Researchers are looking at what happens to the brain and the physiological benefits when reciting poetry and using call and response.
  • [18:09] Gary gives tips for how to use poetic techniques one on one.
  • [19:55] The second technique is to have discussions around the poem
  • [20:54] Gary discusses the use of props as the third technique
  • [24:10] The fourth technique, to create a poem with your loved one, is shared.
  • [27:05] Using poetry helps caregivers to slow down (for even 5 minutes) to connect in a deep way with your loved one.
  • [28:01] Gary reveals what he's learned about people living with dementia over the past 20 years.
  • [29:39] Gary shares an example of people engaging in an exercise called, "Pass the Face", in this case, "the face" was a smile.
  • [32:00] Memory Cafes and other organized groups for people living with dementia can be a great way for people to connect and reduce isolation. Gary describes a few.
  • [34:04] Gary describes his wish to end the stigma of dementia.
  • [35:00] I share my own reflections on the importance of connecting to the person within.
  • [38:00] But wait! There's more! Gary shares a poem that he wrote about his parents' experience migrating west from Oklahoma (there's even a harmonica)




Gary Glazner and The Alzheimer's Poetry Project

Gary Glazner is the founder and Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project was the recipient of the 2013 Innovations in Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiving Legacy Award and the 2012 MetLife Foundation Creativity and Aging in America Leadership Award. The National Endowment for the Arts listed the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project  as a “best practice.”  NBC’ “Today” show, the PBS News Hour and NPR’s “All Things Considered” have featured segments on Gary Glazner’s work. Gary Glazner is the author of Dementia Arts: Celebrating Creativity in Elder Care. In 2014, Glazner began working in the Arts and Corrections field with his Poetry and Improv program, at the Unit for the Cognitively Impaired, at Fishkill Correctional Facility in upstate New York. In 2016, Glazner designed and co-taught “Creativity in Elder Care,” for the University of Arizona Medical School. In 2016, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Gary launched “Poetry for Life,” an intergenerational program that brings students of all ages together with people living with memory loss to perform and create poetry. The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project has provided programming in 32 states and internationally in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Poland and South Korea.



Learn more about Gary Glazner and the Alzheimer's Poetry Project!


Here are some of the dementia arts groups that Gary mentioned:



Want to learn more about dementia?

I wanted to share with you an important freebie, that's something free, I made for this episode. It's called,  Dementia 101: A Beginner's Guide to Dementia Disorders. In it, I describe what dementia is and isn't. I describe the phases of dementia and what to do if you're worried that your aging parent may have dementia. So, take a moment to download it. It answers some of the most frequently asked questions I get about dementia!



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I'm Dr. Regina Koepp!

I'm a Stanford trained, Board Certified Clinical Psychologist specializing with older adults and families! I'm an Assistant Professor at Emory University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, and a staff Psychologist working with older adults and families at the Atlanta VA Health Care System. I'm a mom of two little kids and a daughter to aging parents.

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