The Power of Language: Poetry, Prayer, Songs and Alzheimer’s

November 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm Leave a comment

When my mom was having a rough day, I’d go to her bedside table and pull out her tattered Bible, turn to the Psalms and would recite the words of David. Soon, my mom would stop fidgeting, grow calm, fold her hands and listen. Her lips would begin to move, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He restores my soul.” Even after my mother had forgotten my name and her name, she remembered these words of comfort. As she changed, I changed. I was no longer her caregiver, I was her daughter–and friend.

Why? Language has power.  Words we learned long ago become a part of us. They settle deep in our brains and become a part of us on a cellular level. Long after my mother forgot my name and her own name, she could recite passages of scripture, lines of songs, and snippets of nursery rhyme. The connection with words, their lyricism, their syntax, their meaning comforted her in ways I couldn’t. Those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia respond amazingly to the power of language. It’s good for the brain and even better for the heart.

Nursery rhymes. Childhood songs. Pop hits of our teens. Our wedding dance. Songs of our faith. The Torah. The Bible. Hindi Texts. Shakespeare. Rumi. Dr. Seuss. What would reach your loved one? Look back over their lives. Try something from each decade. Ask friends and relatives–what poem did Mom (or Dad) always love? What song did she like to dance to? What song did your dad sing you to sleep by?

The power is in the flow. Alliteration of vowels and consonants. Connections that stir our memories, our past. Even if it’s just a feeling, something they can no longer put into words, the power is still there. Who can resist a good Jitterbug? Who can not swoon at Perry Como’s Moon River?

One beautiful movie that focuses on this theme is “In Her Shoes.” A wayward granddaughter comes to live at her grandmother’s retirement community. She meets a dying professor who introduces this young woman to the beautiful and moving poetry of e.e.Cummings. It changes her. It gives her hope and direction. The words coil around her heart–and changes her.

Caregiving is so much more than cutting pills and changing soiled sheets. Take the time to pull out a book, download a song, and share a moment.


Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving. Tags: , , , .

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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