Healing words: Critical inquiry of poetry interventions in dementia care

A.M.C. Swinnen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The personhood movement in dementia research has established the theoretical foundation for implementing cultural arts interventions in care practices. The underlying assumption is that professionals from the visual and the performance arts are well equipped to see the person behind the condition and to focus on possibilities for meaningful relationships in the here and now. This article focuses on poetry interventions as one example of cultural arts interventions. The use of poetry might seem counterintuitive, given that people with dementia lose their language abilities and that poetry is regarded to be the most complex literary form. I will argue that expanding on existing research on poetry interventions from a health and science perspective with a humanities approach will help illuminate how poetry works to enhance the exchange with people with dementia. Drawing on participant observations of poetry interventions by Gary Glazner (Alzheimer's Poetry Project, USA) at the New York Memory Center, I will frame poetry interventions as a specific form of oral poetry in which people with dementia are positioned as cocreators of embodied texts and directly benefit from the power of the spoken word.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1377-1404
Number of pages28
JournalDementia: The International Journal of Social Research and Practice
Issue number6
Early online date27 Nov 2014
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016


  • Alzheimer's Poetry Project
  • oral poetry
  • personhood in dementia
  • poetry interventions
  • the arts in person-centered care

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