Changing attitudes to dementia through poetry

A passionate Rotorua caregiver is helping to create a dementia-friendly New Zealand through poetry.

Michelle Mills has been caring for residents at Bupa New Zealand Redwood Home and Hospital since 2004.

Her passion for helping people has now inspired her to use poetry to shine a light on dementia and the impact it has on people.

It first started at the end of 2015, when Michelle wrote a poem called “My Life, My Way” as part of a presentation for Bupa Redwood. It was received so warmly, she decided to continue writing, using her knowledge and experience to get people to think about the dementia journey from different perspectives.

I don't know what it's like to live with dementia, but through the many people I have cared for, I can offer some insight and I hope that my words will provide some information and comfort.
Michelle Mills, Bupa Redwood Carer

Michelle decided to start writing poetry as a way to help people with dementia, families, partners and carers understand the often confusing condition.

Here's an excerpt from the poem "Through my eyes":

When you look into my eyes what do you see?

It has been a rough road especially for me

At first you thought I was merely depressed

Taking until lunch time to even get dressed

In my mind I became somewhat confused

The look on your face was somewhat bemused

I forgot where I was and where I was meant to be

I could be in one place and then want to flee

We would go for a power walk, I’d put you through your paces

And then there were times I struggled with my laces

In my addled mind reality is not today

I can only remember what happened yesterday

My speech became slurred and my words were mumbled

Because in my head my thoughts were so jumbled

The simplest tasks became magnificent feats

Moment by moment my time often repeats


“Most people are aware that dementia involves memory loss but there are many other symptoms too,” Michelle said.

“By respecting who they are and providing the right support for them, it is possible for people to live well with dementia,” she said.

This, Michelle says, is what gets her out of bed every morning. 

“I am passionate about caring for people with dementia and I love getting to know them."

She now has her work published in the book by Bupa NZ called “Poetry from the heart”, with two available in every Bupa NZ site as a tool to help families, whānau, and Bupa employees understand dementia.

Some poems included in the book are “Through my eyes”, “Partnership”, “Through the eyes of a child”, and “Note to Carers”.

I like that reassuring hand on my arm

It means to me that you mean no harm

And I’m not adverse to a hug or two
It shows me you care about the job you do
Michelle Mills, Poetry from the Heart

Beth McDougall, Bupa NZ’s Dementia Care Advisor, has praised Michelle’s efforts.

“Michelle demonstrates her empathy and understanding of those she cares for not only in day to day actions but through her gift to write from the heart,” she said.

“I’m delighted we could help to share her work, and by doing so helping us understand more about people living with dementia. It’s a great way to help create a more dementia-friendly society.”

Poetry from the Heart is available to download here

Bupa is committed to helping to create a dementia-friendly New Zealand

Read more about working at Bupa