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Writing is therapeutic for people of all ages, as the quiet time encourages the expression of thoughts and feelings on paper. For Claude Dollins, a 78-year-old resident of HarborChase of the Park Cities (a community of luxury senior residences), writing in his journal and composing letters to family and friends has always been a passion. In recent years, he’s been able to explore this hobby in a different way due to cognitive decline. He has very little short-term memory, and writing in his journal has helped him relive memories he might not have remembered without the activity. After moving to the community, Dollins was inspired to join the Poetry Program at HarborChase led by Molly Meyer, life enrichment director, to help stimulate his mind and work through his emotions. The Poetry Program is a group writing activity that uses thought-provoking conversation to spur memories used to create poems.

“I’ve helped residents create more than 800 poems,” said Meyer. “It’s heartwarming to see the memories that come flooding back when you stimulate the senses of those with cognitive decline. I’ve worked closely with Claude, and the writing has proven to be cathartic and helps him process and express emotions. I’ve enjoyed working with all of the seniors at HarborChase of the Park Cities, and I hope to grow this program and bring more memories back for residents. Many don’t think poetry can help improve what’s lost, but I’ve seen it firsthand.”

The poetry program is used as a tool to help residents who live in memory care and “The Sound,” the name for the third floor of the community designed for seniors with mild cognitive decline. To start, Meyer will never say, “Let’s write poetry.” She understands that can be intimidating and doesn’t want residents to feel pressured. Instead, she presents a creative activity that involves memory and imagination. She’ll come up with a theme, then bring 3-D objects that residents can touch. After that, she’ll start to ask questions about the theme and objects. During this time, residents start to express themselves, which triggers their memories. While she is asking questions, she writes down the residents’ responses and turns them into a poem. Meyer says she’s had great success using this program with those who have cognitive impairment.

“On one occasion, I asked Claude about his childhood and how he nicknamed his dad ‘Rope’,” said Meyer. “Well, Claude doesn’t go by his real name because his grandkids nicknamed him Dako. After prompting him about his dad, he then started to talk about his childhood, high school years and memories he shared with Rope. Asking simple questions and digging a little deeper for specific details allows for memories to come back.  It’s amazing to witness, and I feel privileged to be there to document it so he can read it at another time.”

“The Poetry Program is a unique approach that enhances the lives of those living with cognitive decline,” said Dan Dollins, son of Claude Dollins. “My dad was an executive coach, and he always enjoyed talking and writing to others. It’s inspiring to know he is taking his passion and creating poetry. While he participates in group writing classes at the community, he also still enjoys writing in his free time. I bought him a journal a few years ago, and, so far, he’s written to my family and me more than 200 times. I’ve saved every letter. It’s a way for me to help my dad remember memories that he doesn’t anymore. It’s a beautiful thing to see and we appreciate how the community encourages residents to pursue their passions and participate in programs. I look forward to seeing more poetry he will create with Molly.”