Students Use Poetry to Increase Health of Pennybyrn Residents

HIGH POINT, N.C., April 4, 2016 – For High Point University students, their visit to Pennybyrn at Maryfield each week is more than a class project.

The students take time to use poetry as a way to increase the health of the residents at the retirement living community, but they also foster lasting friendships with the residents through the process.

These students are enrolled in the service learning class “Narrative Medicine in Action,” and they meet with residents of the retirement living community each weekend for workshops filled with poetry, laughter and friendship. The students and residents read and act out poems together, use artful images and objects to generate creativity and end the workshops with the creation of a group poem or story. This is the third year that the class has connected students with Pennybyrn residents.

“When the semester began, I didn’t realize how incredible this experience was going to be,” said HPU student Daniella Santo. “Since we have started doing poetry sessions with the residents, it has made me very interested in poetry as well. I have loved being able to get close with individual members, and I truly look forward to coming and spending time with them each week. They each have a special place in my life, and they are making a difference in our lives just as much as we are making a difference in theirs.”

For the residents and HPU students, it is more than just poetry and healing. It is friendship that grows throughout the semester and beyond the class project.

“It is wonderful to have the students come and visit with us each week,” said Pennybyrn resident Bob Allen. “I think it is great for them to take the time out of their busy schedules to come and be with us. I consider each of those students good friends and I hope they continue to come and see us after the semester is over.”

Multiple scientific studies show that reading and reciting poetry out loud can lower blood pressure, regulate heart and breathing rates and activate regions of the brain associated with introspection and memory. Writing poetry has been shown to increase immune system function, improve mood and decrease pain in individuals suffering from chronic pain.

Allison Walker, professor of the service learning class, sees poetry as the best medicine anyone can be given.

“The more these residents participate in the poetry workshops, the more of a positive effect it has for them,” said Walker. “We have found that it reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness that can come with a life care facility. Over time, it encourages them to be more social and helps their minds continue to grow even at an older age. I don’t know of any pill that can do that. I like to call it ‘poetic medicine’ because it is the sweetest medicine that you will ever take.”

The students will host an end-of-the-year poetry celebration for the residents of Pennybyrn at 2 p.m. on April 28 at Pennybyrn at Maryfield.


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