Poetry & Dementia: Book Recommendations for National Poetry Month

Each April, we celebrate National Poetry Month. The tradition was first started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets as a way to appreciate poetry and make it a part of everyday American life. With the increase of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, we are also seeing an increase in the amount of poetry that wrestles with the various themes of this demanding disease. Whether it is a caregiver lamenting their gradual grief, or the individual facing their own reality, poetry has become an important vessel for the experiences of millions of Americans going through a difficult journey. Author Barbara Brown Taylor says, “ If you have ever tried to tell a doctor how the pain you are feeling feels, then you know the limits of language…Metaphors are all you have, since there are no words to describe pain directly.” She goes on to describe that while pain happens in the flesh, “Suffering, on the other hand, happens in the mind. The mind decides what pain means…The mind makes judgments, measures loss, takes blame, and assigns guilt.” Poetry, with its rich metaphors has provided an important language for the pain and suffering of many families experiencing Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

While self-expression for the caregiver or individual is extremely therapeutic, poetry also makes the assumption that our experience isn’t just our own. Hearing a poet capture an experience as if it were your own can offer an insightful and comforting connection between two people carrying the same burdens. This year, we are sharing 10 books of poetry that deal with Alzheimer’s and dementia. May they be they be insightful and comforting reminders that you are not alone:  

1. Honeycomb: Poems by Carol Frost
Award winning poet Carol Frost was inspired to write this collection of poems after caring for her mother during her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. This meditation on memory and its role in relationships and identity.  





2. Listening to Mozart: Poems of Alzheimer’s
Author Esther Altshul Helfgott that follows the range of emotions from grief to celebration as she journey’s with her husband’s journey with Alzheimer’s.





3. You are Not Alone: Poems about Alzheimer’s by Lon Cole

Lon Cole was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. That is when the poems began to flow. He meets moments of despair with honest and hope and faith. 





4. Living in the Land of Limbo: Fiction and Poetry about Family Caregiving

This anthology, edited by Carol Levine, is comprised of poems and short stories about family caregivers. It is dedicated to the caregiver’s experience. Many of the authors are well-known poets and writers and they come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.



5. Sparking Memories: Alzheimer’s Poetry Project Anthology | Edited By: Gary Mex Glazner

Much like the lyrics to old songs, favorite poems can often spark memories and an emotional response for those with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Poetry Project facilitates the creativity of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias and engages people in a call and response performances of poetry. In this anthology, they’ve created a toolbox for family members with poems, tips on how to use them , and essays on the use of poetry in dementia caregiving.


6. Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease

Editor Holly Hughes  compiles this collection that provides illumination in the darkness of the disease. These poems and short essays are written by contemporary writers to intersect with the disease from doctors to, social workers, to hospice nurses, to family and friends. The stories here are simultaneously personal and universal.  




7. Forgetting Home: Poems About Alzheimer’s (anthology)

With Categories like, “Reverse Parenting”, “Nobody’s Fault”, and “The Un-naming”, editor Anna M. Evans has hit the nail on the head with this collection of poems about Alzheimer’s from multiple perspectives.  





8. The Stolen From: Poems About Memory and Alzheimer’s

In a work of her own, Anna M. Evans writes poems that are portraits of individuals going through the disease as well as those that are providing support and care. It is a poignant reflection on the nature of memory and how the disease impacts our sense of identity.  




9. Not Yet: A Care-giving Collage

In this collection of poems about Alzheimer’s, Marcia Slatkin uses poetry to delve into the territory of the intimate setting of daily caregiving with its brutality and grace.






10. Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry by Rachel Hadas

Rachel Hadas’s husband was a composer and professor of music at Columbia University when he was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. She puts language to the long journey from diagnoses to passing as she tried to keep track of and tell the truth of her experience. Rachel is the author of many books and her poetic voice has rendered a gift to the conversation of what it means to care for, love, and lose another human being. 






Published on April 29, 2014.