“How Poetry Can Help People with Dementia”




My mother’s road through Wernicke-Korsakoff, alcoholics dementia, was a long and tangled one.

I cared for her for years.

As the dementia took over it became harder and harder for me to hold it all together.

I am grateful to the social workers who helped me come to terms with the fact that I alone could not care for my mother. She was a difficult woman at best. She beat me as a child. Her alcoholism wrecked havoc on my family’s life, and she was fading away.

I was blessed to find very loving, tolerant and patient women to help me care for my mother.

Caregivers are Angels Walking this Earth. Our Angel was Catherine Finley.

My mother tried every trick in the book on Catherine. She locked her out and left out the back door to head to a liquor store. She would fill her grocery cart to the brim only to  have ‘forgotten’ her checkbook at home, leaving Catherine to explain to the cashier my mothers situation. My mother would stand there laughing at Catherine the entire time. My mother would hide from Catherine in shops. She would stop Catherine from eating her lunch, accuse her of stealing, call her names. Catherine called me daily with updates. She would tell me about my mother’s hijinks with a sense of humor. She never took the mean things my mother said to her to heart. She never called my mother names. She was always early and took time to assess what needed to be done around the house too. I would use her list to make short work of caring for my mother on my shifts. Catherine gave Mommy her dignity. Catherine was our Angel on Earth.

The time away from Mommy was very good for me and in turn, for my family. It took me weeks to wean myself off of seeing Mommy daily, of calling. I had to Let Go. I had to Let Go and Let Catherine.

I found this article about caregivers using poetry to help reach people suffering with dementia of all kinds.

As I wend my way back to the Hard Truth, today I am grateful for the woman who began to help me Let Go.


A caretaker. An unsung hero.

On Mommy’s death-bed I read to her. I read to her from her favorite poetry book.

I held her hand and lay next to her as her body shut down.

Poetry at the end and now a way to use Poetry in the middle.

To Catherine  and to all caretakers who are helping others Let Go

while giving someone dignity and keeping them safe.





My thanks to agingcare.com for the article

Eternal Gratitude to Jewish Family Services of Denver Senior Solutions

for connecting me with our angel,


To Catherine, a Woman Angel walking this Earth with Love and Grace.



How Poetry Can Help People with Dementia

April 23, 2013

For 20 minutes, silence blankets the room, punctuated only by the soft breathing of two women who are seated, facing one another.

The eldest of the two struggles to speak—she has dementia and talking has recently become difficult for her.
A single word, “life,” finally ekes its way out of her mouth.

The other woman, a poet named Susanna Howard, makes a notation in her notebook. Once she’s finished, she takes her eyes off the page and resumes waiting.

Sometime later, thanks to Howard’s ministrations, the elderly woman’s remarks have, almost magically, become woven into a new pattern, at once familiar and unique:

Lived a Life
Nobody here asks what you did
In your life
It seems they seem to think
We were put on earth with broken legs
And have come here for sympathy

Nobody wants to listen
I’ve had a stroke
Words don’t come out
And they say ‘Yes, yes’—
Don’t really want to know

It sounds silly
But it’s quite true
We have all lived a life

Giving a voice to those silenced by dementia

Howard, whose motto is “All words are okay,” is the creative force behind “Living Words,” an innovative form of art therapy aimed at giving people with dementia a new voice.

Too often, says Howard, people with cognitive impairment are written off by society.

Even close friends and family can become unsure of how to communicate with loved ones who have lost their ability to form coherent thoughts and sentences. Most hesitate to speak to dementia-stricken people for fear that they will upset them by asking a question that can’t be answered, or say something that unintentionally offends them.

Of course, not speaking only serves to further alienate the individual living with cognitive impairment. “I find it very sad when people say the essence of a person goes when they have dementia,” says Howard. “The person you loved is still there, operating from their essential self.”

Continue reading to read additional poems written by people living with dementia…

Coconut Oil for Alzheimer’s: Miracle Cure or Misguided Myth?
7 Tips for Talking to Aging Parents
How Service Dogs Can Help People With Alzheimer’s Disease

Finding the Poetry in Dementia originally appeared on AgingCare.com.

We all just want to be heard

Different dementias can affect different people in different ways.

For example, the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease are often marked by progressive memory loss, while individuals suffering from Lewy-body dementia often experience vivid hallucinations and delusions.

It’s no wonder that most outsiders become easily baffled and thus hesitant to engage a cognitively impaired friend or family member.

But avoiding interactions only isolates that individual further, making him feel unheard and almost in-human.
That’s what makes the poetry sessions are so helpful.

According to Howard, going through the process of writing a poem, and then hearing the finished verse spoken back to them, can help people with dementia feel connected. “When a person hears their words, they resonate with them; even if they don’t recall saying them. This resonation prompts a feeling of being heard on some level,” she says.

Number 65
The chair—it’s so dirty feeling
I’m not in running order
Where do you go to when you
Go out?
I keep out of walking mode
With the mainframe
In the convoy—don’t go around much
I wish
Wish I could drive in a big car
Drive away in a car, oh
Oh I, I wish, wish I could
Fly just fly right away
To number 65—Not
Drifting along at nothing

Changing the way we communicate

In honor of National Poetry Month, we wanted to take the time to highlight the incredible power of poetry to connect human beings through each life stage.

For her part, Howard hopes that her work will help alleviate some of the apprehension that accompanies communication between those trapped in the alternate reality of dementia and those operating in the outside world.

It’s difficult for Howard to pinpoint the most poignant lesson she’s learned while working with men and women living with dementia, “It can’t really be summed up—I am constantly surprised at how powerful the work can be,” she says.

She does admit that one of the most refreshing aspects of working with these men and women is the fact that many of the filters imposed by society and propriety are stripped away, leaving refreshingly raw and honest observations. “People with dementia use language that more directly links to their emotions. They tend to say how they’re really feeling.”

In addition to her work with the dementia-stricken, Howard also holds seminars and workshops to help people working in elder care facilities comprehend how people with dementia express their thoughts and feelings.

Her hope is that Living Words therapy paradigm (which has been rapidly spreading throughout the UK) will grow into a model that’s used around the world. Howard is currently working on publishing a book of poems written by people with dementia.

I don’t know really, because
I’m really

It scares me to hell
I don’t know what to do—
I’m scared

It was so disgusting—I just sat there, doing
I thought I was
In an asylum I was
Ashamed that I
Sit there

These people were people who, well they are
Old age pensioners. They made me an
Pensioner. I was
Really annoyed—terrible isn’t it
There’s nothing wrong with me—
I just don’t do

I feel
Lost—that’s all I can say, because
I’ve never felt
Lost—this is
Just hell
So you now have the whole thing.
I can’t say it myself.
The saddest thing.


Read more: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/3-incredibly-profound-poems-written-by-people-with-dementia.html#ixzz2xtK7pogr

~ by Step On a Crack on April 3, 2014.

4 Responses to ““How Poetry Can Help People with Dementia””

  1. I am thankful for your courage. Your courage to reach out and let go. Your courage to write your way through this and your courage to survive. You have helped so many others along your way. And Catherine? Oh yes, a Woman Angel. We’ve been blessed with one of those too. Wonderful post Jen. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another beautiful post, my sweet. What a treat to see you writing here and sharing your story with us. I’m totally blown away by the fact that you can share the “other side” of the tragedy that is W-K! As much as I more/less hated my mom because she was a ‘special kind of evil’; she was suffering terribly with depression (at least that’s what she claimed). Some days I believe that, and some days I don’t. But I, unlike you, still feel like “Why wasn’t [mom] someone ELSE’s mom; why couldn’t i have had one that made me feel like something better than a piece of shit?” As we move on in life, it’s not that much clearer how we (I) F E E L about The Woman. YOU took care of your mom and Catherine took care of her. SHE was blessed. YOU are a little Angel. MWAH! ❤


  3. You, my beloved friend, are so full of poetry that whatever you write is imbued with it…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brilliant.
    It is also true that memorized poetry from the patent’s past is the last fragment of cognition to go. Little songs from childhood remain until the last hurrah.
    Amazing that in primitive cultures, all literature is poetry, eh?
    Loved this article. Thanks!


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