Through my journey as a caregiver I’ve met amazing people who work everyday in the fight against Alzheimer’s. This group of people includes caregivers, business owners, doctors, nurses, social workers, non-profit leaders and more. I refer to these people as “titans” because they exhibit great strength, power and influence in the world of Alzheimer’s. As I have been inspired by and learned from each of these awesome human beings, I would like to share with you their stories and how they are helping in this crusade. Because after all, sharing is caring. 🙂 Hopefully, I provide some insight along with introductions to new resources along the way.
I’m excited to kick off the #titantuesday feature with poet and Alzheimer’s advocate Molly Middleton Meyer. I met Molly through my volunteer efforts with the Alzheimer’s Association. She owns Mind’s Eye Poetry where she facilitates poetry sessions with Alzheimer’s patients as a means to stimulate memory and imagination and create a connection.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to share your story, Molly. You rock!
Q. Before starting your company, you had a personal connection to Alzheimer’s disease. Can you share a bit of your story and why this cause is important to you?
I lost both of my parents to Alzheimer’s disease–back-to-back, in 2011 and 2012. My dad lived with the disease for three years. My mom fell shortly after her diagnosis and the head injury she sustained exacerbated the progression of the disease. She lived only 9 months after being diagnosed. Needless to say, watching one’s parents slip away is heartbreaking. I experienced every emotion possible.
My brother and I were fortunate to be able to care for our parents, with the exception of a brief time when they each lived in a memory care center. I was frustrated by the lack of mental stimulation they received while in the center. Some of the so called “activities” were demeaning. I knew that there had to be a better, more empowering way to interact with those for whom so much is being lost.
Q. How did Mind’s Eye Poetry start and what is your mission?
Providing engaging, empowering, joyful interactions with people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease has become my mission and my passion. It led me to start Mind’s Eye Poetry. I’ve always been a writer, and more recently a poet. I was working on my master’s in creative writing (with an emphasis in poetry) when my mom passed away. I wanted to combine my love of poetry with my passion for changing the way those with dementia are viewed and treated. Music is therapeutic, why not poetry? After all, poetry is verbal music. Through trial and error, I developed a method of facilitating poetry using the ideas and words of the people I’m working with to create on-the spot poems–poems that a living testament to the human desire for creativity, even in the midst of illness.
Q. What is a session with Mind’s Eye Poetry like?
My sessions run an hour long. I work with groups of people in memory care centers and day centers, as well as with individuals in private homes. I design the sessions around a theme, for example the ocean, or birds. I bring in props that fit the theme and we talk about the items that I display on the table. Participants begin to open up and often share stories and memories that are triggered by the conversation and the props. I then recite several poems that fit the theme, taking care to leave time for participant reaction and comments. After I recite poems, the fun begins. I facilitate the writing of the participant’s poetry. We usually write three to five poems as a group in each session.
Q. What benefit do participants receive?
The people I write poems with transform before my eyes. It is not unusual to have someone speak who has become totally withdrawn. Eyes light up, memories are triggered, imagination is stimulated. The process is empowering for the participants. During my sessions, participants are pleasantly surprised by what they can do–create beautiful poems, something most would have said was impossible when first sitting down for a session. I see the joy on the faces of my poets as I read their work back to them. Beyond creating a joyous, mentally stimulating interaction, I believe the process is therapeutic. The folks I work with regularly have increased confidence. They think more creatively, often stunning me with their images and language.
Q. Can you share an interesting experience or story about a client?
I write poems with a gentleman named, “K.” It’s a childhood nickname that has followed him into his 80’s. During one of our sessions, “K” was triggered when one of the participants said, “red light.” A flood of memories came back to “K.” It turns out that he began working on the railroad when he was just a boy, something he continued to do for the almost 60 years. “K” told the group detailed stories about his adventures. We added some of those details to our poems about travel. Tears of joy streamed down “K’s” cheeks as I read the poems back to him. When I was packing up, “K” stood up, walked over, and held my hand. “Thank you for helping me remember the things that make me happy.”
Q. What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
Writing poetry with people who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is a gift. I am able to use my talent to add joy to the lives of those who need it most. I see the impact of taking the time to listen. I see the pride on my poets faces as I read back their words and ideas. Nothing is more rewarding than having 15 people ask when you are coming back. There is also an unexpected reward–healing. Looking back, I was not as patient as I would have liked to have been with my parents. I never thought to use poetry facilitation with them. I am lucky to get a second chance, a new opportunity to interact with people who are living with Alzheimer’s in the way that I wish I had with my parents. I see my mom and dad in the people I am blessed to work with and it makes my heart happy.
Q. In what other ways are you active in the Alzheimer’s community?
I am an active member of the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Dallas. I serve on the Board of Directors and participate on numerous committees, including chairing the Communications Committee. I love being a part of an organization that makes a difference for the people in our community. I’m looking forward to the Walk To End Alzheimer’s on September 26th in Dallas, Denton, and Frisco. We are on track to be one of the biggest walks in the nation, raising much need funds for Alzheimer’s research.
Q. Having been a caregiver and working regularly with Alzheimer’s patients, do you have any advice for caregivers?
Through my experience with my parents, as well as with the hundreds of people I write poetry with, I’ve learned three things that have made a huge difference in my interactions–take time to listen, maintain a sense of humor, and go on the journey with the person who has the disease, instead of trying to pull them back into your world. Much easier said than done, but practicing these three things will change every interaction and add joy in the most unexpected ways.
Before you go, I’d like to hear from you: Are you familiar with the use of poetry to connect with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients? What other types of therapies have you found to be effective? Would you explore creative therapy with your loved one? Share your thoughts.
Photos by AJK Images.