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Sharing Keats and Kipling Literature with Dementia Residents

Care home residents are benefiting from an innovative new project in the Exeter region, thanks to the efforts of a lecturer in English literature at Exeter University.

engaging with community

An Engaging Project for Young and Old

Dr Johanna Harris, who lectures at the university following her move to the UK from her native Australia, was inspired to instigate the Exeter Care Homes Reading Project in 2011 after noticing that students were only engaging with their own peer group. She also observed that people in the UK tend to interact less with the older generation than they do in Australia, so she came up with the idea of inviting students to read to residents in local care homes.

Approximately a hundred students each year volunteer to participate in the scheme, which requires them to visit local care home residents and read them sections of literature or poems that remind them of their youth.

Many residents remember their school days with great affection. They were accustomed to learning poems by rote, and the students are discovering that many of them can remember poems with astonishing accuracy without having to refer back to the text to jog their memory.

Dr Harris hoped that her scheme would encourage young people to engage with the older generation, but she has discovered that it is often the care home residents who select the poems, prose and plays that they would like to hear.

Accessing Long-Term Memory for Dementia Patients

One care home which specialises in providing care for elderly people with dementia, has been involved with the project from the outset, with astonishing results. The home manager reports that the poetry readings have been extremely beneficial for residents, helping to provide them with an increasing sense of well-being. The familiarity of well-known and much-loved poetry from their younger years helps to bring back long-term memories for a number of residents, and the manager welcomes the stimulus and familiarity that they bring. She points out that the older generation were required to learn poetry off by heart during their school days, and accessing those memories in old age can help to release other memories too, which is so important for dementia sufferers.

According to the students taking part in the project, the majority of older people that they read to particularly enjoy romantic and classical poetry, with poets such as Keats, Kipling and Wordsworth being the most frequently requested. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one of the most popular poem choices, along with the poems from Cats, by T.S. Eliot, which everyone seems to enjoy.

With both students and care home residents reaping the benefits of the literature sharing scheme, it can only be a matter of time before the project is adopted more widely across the rest of the UK.

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