May 16, 2015

The Power of Poetry to Engage, Inspire, and Empower People Living With Alzheimer’s

Molly firmly believes that people living with dementia deserve challenging, empowering, dignifying interactions.

By Marie Marley
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

The Power of Poetry to Engage and Inspire|  Alzheimer’s Reading Room


Molly Middleton Meyer enters the activities room at Atria Senior Living in Carrollton, Texas with a warm smile on her face, ready to shake hands and offer hugs. She finds nine residents gathered around a table.

They may not know it, but they’re about to have a magical experience. They’re about to use their memories and imagination to create stunning poems.

After greeting each resident and showing the group several sensory props related to the theme of the day, Middleton Meyer begins asking carefully-crafted questions designed to elicit words, phrases, concepts, feelings and nonverbal expressions from the residents.

She begins, “Imagine a bird in a garden. What does he look like?” “He’s blue,” Tom says. “What kind of bird is blue?” That’s when Joan chimes in, “A bluebird!”

“Great,” encourages Molly. “What is our bluebird doing?” “He’s singing,” decides Martha. “I wonder why he’s singing?” asks Middleton Meyer. “Maybe because he’s warm,” Mary adds. “Yes,” says Bert, “The sun is shining on him.”

“On his wings!” Martha exclaims.

“Why else might he be singing?” Molly asks. Sarah offers, “Because he’s happy. “What’s another word for ‘happy’?” Jo Ann smiles and says, “Joy.”

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Middleton Meyer continues asking more questions in a casual, non-threatening way. It’s a conversation in which the residents are empowered, and are able to control the essence of the poem.

“What season do you want it to be? What time of day should I say it is? What kind of song do you want the bird to sing?” they are asked.

The session continues for the rest of the hour, questions and answers, conversation and laughter. All the while, Molly is writing down the residents’ comments and taking note of any nonverbal cues.

Remarkably, she arranges the resident’s words and phrases into lines and stanzas and creates poems on-the-spot.

By the end of the session, she has facilitated three poems. Here’s the first one:

Sunrise Bird

The night sky awakens.
Darkness turns to light.

The bluebird feels the sun
on his wings. He begins to sing.

He sings a song of joy.
He sings a song of love.

He sings good morning
to the roses and the trees.

Mary’s eyes well up with tears as Middleton Meyer reads the poem. Joan sits up straighter and leans in to take in every word.

Sarah says, “Please read it again! Martha exclaims, “That was my word!” Tom shakes his head in amazement and proudly announces, “I just wrote a poem!”

After the facilitation Molly takes the poems home and puts final touches on them. She then sends them back to the facilities, where they are displayed in the resident’s rooms, given to family members, highlighted in their newsletters, and used in other creative ways.

Middleton Meyer founded Mind’s Eye Poetry out of a deeply personal experience with Alzheimer’s. She lost both of her parents to the disease.
Throughout her parent’s disease progression, she became increasingly frustrated with the basically mindless “keep ‘em busy” activities provided by many memory care centers.

And so in 2013, through trial and error, Molly developed her unique poetry facilitation method. Through the facilitation process, she stimulates and encourages creative expression in those who are living with Alzheimer’s, “poet/patients” as she calls them.

Through Mind’s Eye Poetry, Middleton Meyer is spreading the word: Despite what is often portrayed in the media, people living with Alzheimer’s are not lost. “They still possess the ability to laugh, think, create, and authentically enjoy living in the moment,” she says.

To date, Molly has facilitated the creation of over 300 poems by people living with dementia. The poems not only bring joy to her poet/patients, but they will also one day become treasured family heirlooms, a record of lives well lived.

Middleton Meyer is a poet and writer who earned an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University in 2014. Her poetry has been featured in several journals.
She is an active member of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Dallas where she serves on the Board of Directors.

Molly conducts facilitation's one-on-one in private homes and with groups in assisted living/memory care centers in the Dallas area.
Soon she’ll join with local hospice providers to introduce poetry facilitation into the arena of end-of-life care.

She travels nationally to conduct facilitation's, workshops, seminars, and training programs She is also available for speaking engagements.

Molly firmly believes that people living with dementia deserve challenging, empowering, dignifying interactions.

“They deserve the best we have to offer them. They are capable of so much more than we give them credit for.”

For more information about Mind’s Eye Poetry visit www.mindseyepoetry.com.

NOTE: The names of the residents have been changed to protect their privacy.

Come Back Early Today

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book,
Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy.
Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer’s caregivers.

Original content the Alzheimer's Reading Room