Dementia Ward

My poem “Dementia Ward” was published in the Independent Weekly on Friday:

Some years ago I was a community visitor to an aged care home in Goodwood. Keith, the man I visited each week for a couple of years, had alcohol induced dementia, and was in a secure ward for his own protection i.e. because if he wandered off the premises he’d never find his way back.   Keith had no family in Adelaide, no other visitors and not a great deal was known about him.

In the fractured conversations we had, I found out he had been a jazz musician in his younger days – maybe that was when he got into drinking.  One of our ways of communicating was that I would tap out a rhythm on the table with my fingers and he would respond with his rhythmically tapped response.  And we’d go on like this for maybe ten minutes.  Once, when I asked him about his taste in music , he said “Every subject of music is in my ears”.

Mike,Keith, Kieran - December 2001

Over the time I visited him (he died about 9 years ago), I met a lot of other residents of the ward. It could be both hilarious and heartbreaking to hear them talk.  I jotted down some of the conversations I had with them. I wasn’t writing poetry at the time, but dipped  back into my old notebooks to retrieve the quotes used in this poem.

Here is the complete piece:

The Dementia Ward

In the garden of the dementia ward

gazing over the fence

she says

“I want to go home

but I don’t know where

and I don’t know how”

In the recreation room

tapping rhythms

on the table

he says

“every subject of music is in my ears”

In the corridor

seated in a wheelchair

face to the wall

she wails

“where’s my son, I want my son”

In the car park

I sit thinking

what life would be like

without my most important memories


I drive home to my family

listening to the radio

drumming my fingers

on the steering wheel

all the way

©Mike Hopkins 2011


7 thoughts on “Dementia Ward

    • Thanks Sally. I can identify with what you say on your blog about trying to see the humour in Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It could be hilarious sometimes, but always with that tinge of sadness.

  1. A poignant poem, Mike.

    And it sounds like you brought joy and companionship to some lonely souls in your time. Good for you. xo

  2. A great poem Mike, I loved it. My visits to the facility where my father spent his final years, hmm, I suspect I still hiding from my own thoughts on this one. I’ve written about him, but images of the residents where Dad lived haunt me. I guess I probably need to write them out of my back-brain and they won’t be able to get me.

  3. Wonderfully restrained reflection on a difficult topic, Mike. Coincidentally I read another poem called Dementia Ward the other day, I think it was by Sarah Day in the Best Australian Poems 2011. There is probably a Alzheimer’s Anthology crying out to be made there…

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