I volunteer to visit some ladies with Alzheimer's at a local memory care facility. One of "My Ladies" is Ruth. I realize I shouldn't have a favorite, but I do. Ruth is my favorite. I just love visiting her. She says she's 90, but I don't believe her. She doesn't look a day over 80. Not to mention that her face looks a good deal like my mother's. Ruth is good-natured and often quite amusing. Sometimes we get to laughing so hard, tears stream down our faces.
I had published an article about Molly Middleton Meyer, the founder of Mind's Eye Poetry, on the Alzheimer's Reading Room. Molly is an expert at facilitating the creation of poetry by individuals and groups of people with Alzheimer's. She helps them use their memories and imagination to create stunning poems.
So one day when I was visiting Ruth, I got the idea of writing some poems together. From my interview with Molly, I'd learned that was something people with Alzheimer's could actively participate in and also something they really enjoyed doing.
I had no special skill or experience in creating poetry with a person who has Alzheimer's, but I didn't let that stop me. Although I couldn't even begin to facilitate the creative process the way Molly does, I did hope Ruth and I could write some simple poems together.
We started our visit by talking about Ruth's experience dancing with soldiers at an Army base during World War II. She tells me that story every time I visit, and I enjoy it each time as much as the time before.
After she had told me the story, I changed the subject and asked, "Do you like poems?"
She got a look of delight on her face and blurted out, "Oh, yes! Happy ones!"
So I decided we'd write happy poems. I didn't know exactly how to proceed so I developed my own approach. I decided to simply start off by saying what I thought would be a first good line for an amusing poem, then raise my right arm toward her and look at her expectantly as though to say, "You say the next line."
Although my procedure was very different, and much simpler than that Molly uses, it worked extremely well. We typically alternated lines -- I'd say a line, then she followed with the next. What surprised me was that in most cases she immediately spouted off a line that not only logically followed mine, but also rhymed with it. And she came up with it quickly. I soon realized that Ruth is actually better and faster at rhyming than I am.
As we went along I wrote down our lines on a little sheet of paper in my wallet. Our first one was about the birds and the bees. I thought that would be a good topic for a fun poem. Here it is:
The Birds and Bees
The birds and the bees
Crawl on their knees and
Do as they please.
They don't have flees -
Those birds and bees.
The very minute we finished, a buzzer went off. An aide stepped in and told us there was a tornado drill and that we had to come immediately to the center hall. We had to sit there for a long time, and Ruth got quite annoyed. I was kind of bothered myself.
So when the drill was over and we went back to Ruth's room, we decided to write a poem together about the drill. Lines two and four are Ruth's.
Was no thrill.
Give me a pill
And forget the drill.
That pill of a drill.
We created another poem during my next visit. It was based on the fact that Ruth loves my little Shih Tzu puppy, Christina, whom I frequently take on my visits. Ruth doesn't remember my name, she doesn't remember that I visit every week, but she remembers I have a puppy and almost always asks me to bring her with me the next time.
This poem is more serious than the others and is one of the few that doesn't rhyme. Ruth came up with lines two, four and six.
I love Marie's puppy, Christina.
She's friendly and makes me smile
When she comes to visit
She checks out my room
But I'm happiest
When she sleeps in my lap.
Seeing how happy Ruth was to actively participate in writing the poems I decided we'd keep doing it. Someday I'm going to type them all up and put them in a colorful binder for her. And I'll make another one for me to remind me of her joy in doing this simple activity.
Lessons Learned From This Activity:
1. Simple activities can bring joy to people who have Alzheimer's.
2. People with Alzheimer's may enjoy helping to write poems.
3. They may be able to come up with lines that logically follow the one before.
4. They may have an uncanny ability to make up lines that rhyme.
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, www.ComeBackEarlyToday, contains a wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.