arts, creative writing, dementia, older people, poetry, Uncategorized

Childhood memories – a poem by care home residents with dementia

My first poetry session with care home residents was inspired by the first session in Kenneth Koch’s book I Never Told Anybody: Teaching Poetry to Old People, which involves writing a group poem about childhood memories.

I was a little bit apprehensive about this session, as I wondered whether the residents would want to participate, or how much they would be able to do so, but I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go – and I think it went well.

The residents – most of whom have dementia – really enjoyed sharing some of their favourite childhood memories, which I wrote down word for word and then shuffled around slightly. When I read back the poem it got such a lovely response, with many of the residents laughing at their own lines and giving a round of applause at the end.

This is their poem …


Childhood memories

I used to do all the dangerous things.
I swam in the Caribbean Sea in Barbados
and the weather was always tropical
because we didn’t have any winters –
we didn’t need all these jackets and scarves.
My favourite thing was playing with the children,
lots of silly games.
We got sent to Sunday School by my dad
and we would always sing songs.
I had a pet tiger called Lucy
who I took from Chester Zoo.
We had a dog and cat and lived in a nice house,
it was big and had a front sitting room with pink walls.
We had a parlour –
it could have been white, yellow or green, I wouldn’t know.
My mum and dad played the piano
and my dad would play all the Irish songs.
He was a big man – 6 foot 2;
I don’t know how I got so small –
I was the bit that got away.
When I was about five my father died
and he was buried in Anfield –
and I’m an Evertonian.
We moved house because the council were knocking ours down.
We moved to opposite the fish and chip shop –
it was supposed to be the best fish and chip shop in the world
and I think it was.
We stood on seven steps
and we never had to wait.

arts, creative writing, dementia, older people, poetry, Uncategorized

In Blackpool – a poem by care home residents

While working with residents in a care home in Liverpool, I was keen to try a poetry session that involved using sensory objects – which are great for everyone but particularly people with dementia – and also that combined writing with art. So for the writing session which generated the poem below, I incorporated a few different things which were all tied up in a seaside theme.

I took in a few decorative items that I thought would work well – a lighthouse, a boat, a fish and a sailor – as well as a postcard with a seaside photograph. I thought these would be good items to use as they were bright and colourful, different textures and I believed would help to evoke different memories.

For this session, I started by passing the items around and sitting with each resident as they looked at them. I asked them what they thought the items were and where they might see such things. Some of the residents lacked speech or were unable to recognise the items or express this recognition, so I just gave them the items to look at and feel and chatted to them about the items.

After this I asked the residents to think about what things they would see, feel, hear, taste and smell at the seaside. I asked questions such as what the wind would feel like, what the sea would look like and what the weather would be like, and wrote down all their responses in lines, which I arranged as a poem

After this I read out their poem – which they were all really pleased with – and finished the session by giving the residents various art projects or activities to do, depending on their interests. One gentleman took a seaside-themed jigsaw to complete, while another lady opted for colouring in pictures of fish, crabs, ice cream cones and a bucket and spade. Another lady painted seaside pictures, and a couple of residents did seaside themed aquapainting. I then stuck the completed pictures on to the wall next to their poem, for a lovely seaside display.


Here is the completed poem …

In Blackpool

You can see seashells and water
and smell fish and chips and a cup of tea.
The fresh air is good
and the smell of the sea –
it’s a lovely smell.
I’d love to be able to swim,
I can only think of the bottom.
I’ve been with my mum and dad
and the little ones before they were big.
We built sandcastles in the sand
and the wind was warm.
The ocean looked nice
it was white.

creative writing, creativity, dementia, older people, poetry, Uncategorized

5 benefits of creative writing for older people and people with dementia

When I first introduced creative writing as an activity in the care home I worked in, my aim was simply to add a bit of variety to the timetable, provide an activity that was fun and free, and introduce something I felt passionate about and enjoyed myself, to see if anyone else felt the same.

However, I soon realised – from reading up on the subject, attending courses and the results of my own sessions – that there were also lots of emotional, mental and physical benefits of creative writing for older people and people with dementia, which was why I decided to set up my company Write Here Write Now, to try and help improve the wellbeing and happiness of older people in Liverpool through creative writing sessions.

Here are some of the benefits of creative writing for older people and people with dementia …

Creative writing for older people1. Creative writing provides an outlet for self-expression for those who may struggle to communicate or be listened to.

Many older people, especially those with dementia, can struggle to express  themselves – often struggling to find the words or losing their chain of thought, or believing people aren’t interested in what they want to say.

Sadly, many older people also have few people who will really listen to them, either because they simply don’t have many people around them or because those who are around them are short on time so don’t have the time or patience to sit and listen, or struggle to understand what they are trying to say.

By encouraging older people during creative writing sessions to think about things in a new way, use their imagination (rather than memory) and talk freely – and also repeating back the words and ideas that are expressed – older people can find a new way to express themselves and also feel that what they say has been heard, validated and appreciated.

2. It provides a new role and sense of purpose.

Getting older generally leads to a great deal of loss, including the loss of many of the roles people have had during their lives, such as daughter/son, friend, neighbour, employee, boss, homemaker, earner, etc. Consequently, many older people – particularly those who have moved into care homes where they might have most things done for them – can feel as though their lives have lost purpose and value. Older people may also feel they have lost many of the abilities and talents they had when they were younger, which can leave them frustrated.

By encouraging older people to create something new – which they and others can enjoy and admire – you are helping them to experience a sense of achievement and accomplishment and to take on a new life role; that of poet, writer or storyteller.

Research also suggests that the imagination and creativity of older adults can flourish in later life, so by allowing them to use this creativity you can take the focus away from what they have lost and can’t do, and put it firmly on their strengths, what they have gained and what they can still achieve.


3. It helps to improve mental wellbeing.

An evidence review commissioned by the Baring Foundation in 2011 showed that participating in arts activities increased confidence and self-esteem in older adults, helped to counterbalance low mood and anxiety after loss, and improved cognitive functioning, communication, self-esteem, enjoyment of life, memory and creative thinking for older people.

According to Mental Health and Older People: A Guide for Primary Care Practitioners, research has also shown that taking parts in arts activities can help to reduce the risk of depression in older people, which means happier older adults and less need for medication.

4. It helps to strengthen social bonds.

Group creative writing sessions or writing groups can help to build social bonds between care home residents or members of the group by allowing them to communicate, collaborate and have fun together.

Furthermore, creative writing sessions can aid communication between older people and their family members, by giving them an activity they can join in together if they wish, providing them with more to talk about during visits, and/or helping family members to understand their relative more by reading their writing.

According to the Baring Foundation, storytelling sessions can also improve the relationships between older people in care homes and the staff who are working with them by helping to “reveal new aspects of the life of a resident and hence help staff relate better to them.”

Strengthening social bonds is important, as not only has research shown that more socially    active older adults experience less cognitive decline, but having a wider social circle can drastically improve the happiness levels of older people and improve their quality of life.

Creative writing for older people, ideas

5. It helps older people to stay mentally active.

According to a study published in Neurology, keeping mentally active helps protect the brain in old age. The Alzheimer’s Society also advises people to give their brains a daily workout to help reduce their risk of dementia.

Creative writing is a great way to help older people stay mentally stimulated in a fun and pressure-free way; encouraging them to use their imagination, use observation and communication skills, and learn new skills, with the freedom of knowing there are no right or wrong answers.





activities, arts, crafts, creative writing, creativity, dementia, older people

5 tips for doing creative activities with older people

Creativity has a huge amount of benefits for older people, including helping to provide an outlet for self-expression, helping participants to stay mentally active, creating a feeling of achievement and personal identity, and decreasing depression and anxiety. Here are some tips on how to carry out creative activities with older people …

1. Don’t be afraid to try new ideas

Trying something new can be incredibly nerve-wracking, especially when you feel you have an audience of carers and visitors to share their opinions on what you’re doing! However, the best way to learn is by doing, so try not to be afraid to give something a go, even if you’re not quite sure whether or not it will work out.

It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t quite go to plan (this took me a really long time to learn, and in fact I’m probably still working on it!) but it is simply a learning opportunity to help you figure out what does and doesn’t work for a particular individual or group of people. The most important thing is to have fun, so as long as you have a laugh and a chat as you go, who really cares if an activity doesn’t quite work out?

2. Use lots of props

Props are a great way to engage older people, and especially those with dementia who may be particularly receptive to sensory activities. For a creative writing activity, for example, it is great to use lots of props to create a theme and provoke memory and imagination – such as music, smells, pictures, and textured, interesting-looking objects. You could put together themed boxes of objects to pass around, or see if your local museum has any you can borrow – such as the themed memory suitcases available from the House of Memories programme at the Museum of Liverpool.

Also, for arts and crafts, don’t forget to embrace your inner Blue Peter presenter and provide an example you made earlier. It can be hard for people with dementia – or anyone in fact – to envision a project based simply on description, so providing an example can help to motivate people to take part in the activity and help them to stay focused on what they are doing.

3. Try to find a way around obstacles

When working with older people you will inevitably face challenges in terms of mobility, visual impairment, and lack of speech – but try not to rule people out from activities based on what you think they can’t do. Instead, try to think about what they can do and how you can incorporate that into your activity. Having a mixed ability group can really help, as you can play to everyone’s strengths.

For those in the later stages of dementia or who have seriously limited mobility, or those who are simply unsure about joining in, try sitting with them and doing the activity yourself while asking for advice and occasional help – for instance, asking for tips on whether you have enough of each ingredient while baking and for how long it should go in the oven; or asking what colour glitter or paint they would like on a card you are making and helping them to dap on some glue or paint if they are able. You could also try planning a themed session with different types of activity to suit each person. For instance, you could have a summer themed session and provide a variety of relevant activities, such as a summer-themed jigsaw, a picture to paint or colour in, a craft to do, or just some objects or pictures to look at, so that everyone is able to feel involved.

4. Remember the process is more important than the finished product

From my experience, two of the most important things to remember when doing activities with older people is to allow them to lead the pace of the activity, and to be flexible.

Try not to be too rigid with time constraints or goals for the session and allow it to unfold as it will – whether that means several of the group members leave or fall asleep before the end of the session, a craft activity evolves into a group singalong, or an activity is abandoned entirely in favour of a chat. Although it’s nice to have a finished product at the end of the session, what is even better is to have a happy participant who has enjoyed themselves, which is great to keep as the focus of any activity.

5. Plan a mini celebration

To increase the enjoyment and sense of achievement generated by an activity, it is a good idea to plan a form of celebration of what they have created – as small or as big as you like. This could be as simple as reading back a poem or story to the poet or storyteller, displaying a piece of artwork on the wall or in a care home newsletter or magazine, planning a meal based around something they have created, or presenting a certificate after a series of workshops.

Alternatively, you could plan something more extravagant every so often, such as organising a poetry reading or art exhibition, or compiling an anthology of stories. Remember also to thank each participant at the end of each session, to let them know their contribution has been appreciate

dementia, older people

5 things I learned from working with older people

Here are some of the valuable life lessons I have learned during my time as an Activities Coordinator and Creative Writing Facilitator in care homes …

There is no such thing as an “old person”

OK, technically there is such a thing as an old person in that people who have reached old age do clearly exist! However, what I mean by this is that the concept many of us have of an “old person” –who is indistinct from every other old person and yet distinct in every way from everyone else in society – is a complete fallacy.

First of all, being old is not a personality trait or a set of characteristics. Just like every young person – or every person originating from the same country – every older person is different and unique. Conversely, older people do actually share similarities, interests and needs with the rest of us!

You don’t suddenly become a new person just because you reach a certain age; like you’re going along with your life and suddenly – boom! – you’re an “old person”. (What age would this be anyway? Is there an established age of when you’re officially classed as an old person?) Older people are the same people they always were, just having been alive a bit longer. This sounds really obvious but it’s surprising how much you hear statements referring to “old people” as though everyone over a certain age is an amorphous mass separate from the rest of society, rather than being millions of individuals with skills, opinions and interests just like the rest of us.

We all want to feel useful

I remember having a conversation with a carer who told me she wouldn’t want to do my job because she liked to feel “useful”. To me, this comment actually emphasised to me why the job of an Activities Coordinator is so important. Everyone likes to feel useful and have a sense of purpose – and that applies to older people too!

Being washed, fed, dressed, taken to the toilet and given medication are of course essential to the wellbeing of older people in care homes (and it’s a job I highly respect). However, I think it’s equally important that older people are also given activities that allow them to be creative, be productive, learn new skills, gain a sense of achievement and feel as though they are contributing to society in some way – whether that’s by making a cake their fellow residents can eat after dinner, creating Christmas cards to sell and donating the money to charity, or writing a poem others can enjoy.

Many activities for older people these days seem to be based on reminiscence or encouraging them to be passive consumers (by watching TV or listening to singers, for example) but I think it’s important older people are also given the opportunity to feel useful and engaged right now (which is what I try to do through my creative writing sessions). Rather than repeatedly telling older people – however indirectly – that their best times are behind them, creative activities allow older people to learn new things, engage with the world around them and create a meaningful present and future too.

Challenges can be overcome

I was once told by an external learning provider that the residents I was working with couldn’t take part in a flower arranging course because they wouldn’t be able to make much progress or learn new skills, and because they couldn’t complete a written report of their progress. I think it’s such a shame when older people miss out on such opportunities because they are lacking in certain skills, when they are more than capable of doing the things they set their mind to with the right help.

Doing activities with older people can require a lot of adaptations – even for a simple game of bingo, for example, you may need to remember which residents require large print sheets, who needs to be sat facing the bingo machine so they can see the numbers, who needs to be given a table to rest their sheet on as they can only use one arm, who can find the numbers but needs help marking them, who can mark the numbers but needs help finding them, etc – but this has taught me to look for the solutions, rather than focusing on the challenges, which is something I can also apply to my own life.

Many older people have learned to overcome a whole host of physical, cognitive and emotional challenges and just keep on going, which I think is incredibly inspiring.

Life is not always best lived in the fast lane

I have a tendency, like many people, to rush through life and keep myself busy. However, working with older people has really helped me to appreciate the importance of taking life a little more slowly and just making time to sit and enjoy a conversation.

When I first started working with older people, I tended to try to rush through activities as I was so focused on trying to achieve my “goal” and get to the finished product, whether that was filling in a life history booklet, finishing a craft activity or completing a piece of creative writing. However, I quickly learned that you can’t rush an activity with older people – or even guarantee that it will ever be finished. People will wander off or nod off in the middle of an activity, work at a much slower pace than you may have anticipated, or prefer just to chat rather than do whatever activity you are approaching them with. And that’s absolutely fine!

I started to learn that the process was more important than the finished product, and sometimes the best moments were when I just abandoned the activity entirely, pulled up a chair, and had a good chat with someone in need of some company and conversation.

Relationships are everything

From many conversations with older people about their lives, their memories and the things that make them happy, I have had reaffirmed that essential truth we all stumble across at some point – relationships make the world go round! Many of the residents have forgotten lots of the details of their lives, but what they will tell you about time and again are the people that are most important to them. Also, no activity I have ever done has provoked as much happiness in a resident as an unexpected visit from a family member or friend.

One of the reasons I love my job so much is because of the connections and relationships I build with the residents I work with. It was lovely to visit a care home I had worked in recently and receive a huge hug from one of the ladies with dementia. I knew it was unlikely she would remember who I was, but I was so happy she associated my presence with some sort of positive emotion. It reminded me of that quote from Maya Angelou: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel”, which may be especially true of people with some memory loss.

Overall, older people have definitely taught me to slow down, make time for conversation and make the most of my relationships – and also the value of taking plenty of naps! 🙂