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Welsh poetry to give voice to those with dementia

With estimates suggesting that as many as one on three of us will receive a diagnosis of dementia in the future, dementia is certainly a condition that is going to touch all our lives in some way.

New Welsh poetry reflecting the voices of people with dementia is to be created as a result of an exciting project enabling poets to work with people in care homes living with the condition. The process of creating and sharing the poetry is a means of maintaining identity for the individuals with dementia, giving them voice and self expression, whilst also raising awareness of dementia at the individual level.  

This creative writing project is part of a wider Pontio project focussing on arts and dementia. Working with Tŷ Newydd, this project combines expertise within the University with the valuable input of poet, John Killick.

Professor Jerry Hunter, of Bangor University’s School of Welsh is leading this project for Pontio. He explains: “This project is an example of the type of innovation that Pontio can offer. What Pontio can do is bring the sciences and the arts together in exciting new ways in order to present something new, which in turn contributes to our communities.”

Saturday 17 November is the first day for this project. The selected poets and writers will receive a day’s training on how to lead activities and engage with people with dementia, led by Professor Bob Woods and Joan Woods of the University’s Dementia Services Development Centre. Poet John Killick, who works in a similar way in English, will explain the methodology used to create the poetry.

Following the training, the poets will run specialist workshops with residents with dementia at a number of care homes in the New Year. The poets will record and edit their words, and if the residents like the results, those poems can then be made available as a means of sharing their expression and experience.  A thorough review of the effectiveness of the activities and results, conducted by experts at the School of Social Sciences forms an integral part of the project.

Professor Jerry Hunter explains further: “Self expression can be challenging for people with dementia, but sometimes they can be very creative and make interesting links and descriptions. It may be that this project will be even more effective within a Welsh speaking community, as poetry is such a strong part of Welsh culture, and people have learnt and heard poetry since their schooldays.”

Siân Northey, a poet and novelist, currently studying a PhD at the School of Welsh is one of the participants- she said:  “I have run a few workshops with older people in the past, and have thoroughly enjoyed them. This is an unique opportunity to gain from the expertise of the University’s Dementia Services Development Centre and John Killick, and then to put that understanding into practice in the community in Gwynedd."

Poet, John Killick said: “I'm excited to be meeting so many Welsh writers enthusiastic about working in this important area of communication. This should really get the innovative scheme off to a great start. And targeting Welsh speakers too!”

Mark Bailey, Managing Director of  Fairways Care Ltd said:
“Our hope is that we can research activities that really have value to our residents.  The aim is that the project will open doors for communication between people with dementia and their families, those that work in care homes and others. Sharing this poetry is a means of expressing the experiences of the individual with dementia- reminding us of each individual behind the statistics, and by so doing, raising awareness of the condition and its effects on the individual.

Publication date: 16 November 2012