Monday, April 24, 2017

Memory, Dementia, and Poetry: National Poetry Month

Poetry and song can reflect the blossom of youth. I'm bringing back Elizabeth Healy for today's post. If you know elderly people, this poem may resonate with you.


I watched him today
during the trivia time.
He couldn't answer--
No memory for details,
But then he went to the hymn sing.
I watched him sing along,
marveling at what he knew.
Those wonderful words of life
bringing amazing grace.
He goes to the garden alone
for a sweet hour of prayer,
and Jesus walks with him
and he talks with him.
Though in his chair
still, he is standing
on the promises of God.
In spite of everything
in his heart there rings a melody.

                   ~Elizabeth Healy

When my mom was in a nursing home, many residents with memory loss sang along to every word at hymn sings or sang along with entertainers who sang "the old songs." What is learned early seems to stick. That gives us ways to connect with people who find difficulty in remembering the now. It also gives them peace and comfort, as they remember their faith and their true, younger selves.

I'd like to call attention to Mind's Eye Poetry, which has the mission of using poetry as dementia therapy. Founder Molly Middleton Meyer says, "Through the use of poetry facilitation, I help my poet/patients access memories and imagination. I turn those memories and imaginings into poems using their ideas, phrases, words, and even non-verbal cues." See sample poems here.

Have you used poetry in this way? How does poetry comfort you? Please leave a comment below.


  1. Thanks for sharing this EH verse, Jane! Yes, I've also experienced the amazing long term memory of hymns and verses recalled by my dad and other dementia-challenged persons. The brain is an amazing part of God's creation and the connections are always surprising! Even at almost 95 years young, Dad sang favorite hymns in the family area and others would sing along. Don's dad remembered and recited the entire Hiawatha poem when he was 92 for the grands to hear! Blessings in your work and play!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Jane. Yes, the brain is an amazing part of Creation, and we keep learning more. Here's to remembering!

  2. My mother has Alzheimer's and I have written many, many poems about our journey. She can no longer speak in full sentences or phrases, just syllables and a word here and there, but she does sing along to favorite songs, it is wonderful to be there when that happens.
    The Forgotten You

    When I look at you I see beyond
    Back to the days, now long gone
    I see a pretty lady, smiling there
    As you sit in your wheelchair

    I see humor in those wrinkled eyes
    Remnants of days gone by
    The twinkle has faded, but I recall
    Those moments when we had a ball

    Your hands are folded in your lap
    But I remember when you never sat
    Busy hands at work for our family
    Those memories are so clear to me

    A clever wit, a teasing grin
    I look back and remember when
    You touched everyone with your grace
    I see beyond this time and space

    I remember who you used to be
    Before the arrival of this disease
    You will forget, you’ll fade away
    But I’ll tell your story every day

    Until others too, can clearly see
    The lives stolen by this disease
    It’s the least that I can do
    I’ll remember the forgotten you.

    Written by: Kala Cota

    1. Oh, Kala, my heart goes out to you and your mom. Thanks for sharing your story and poem. Keep writing!