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Nancy Nelson's Poetry Details Her Experience With Alzheimer's Disease


Many of us know someone afflicted by Alzheimer’s.

It’s a cruel disease that makes no sense. But Nancy Nelson is trying to help us understand the disease.

Nelson was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s two years when her doctor asked her to remember three simple words – Blue … River … Apple.

She couldn’t. They are now the title of a book of poems she’s written to help people understand the anger, frustration, and hope she feels since her diagnoses.


It sounds like the words ‘Blue. River. Apple’ have come to represent much more to you:

It’s not just these three words that give you this diagnosis. It’s many, many things that add up. It was one of many. I’ll probably never forget Blue. River. Apple again.  

You write about masking imperfections on the surface:

I found myself then doing it in ways I had never done it before. I mean if I missed an appointment I found that I not only missed the appointment I started making excuses and then I lied upon the lie. And not wanting to show my vulnerability in not doing what I had always done.

When did you start to deal with or maybe even understanding your diagnosis? When you were first diagnosed?

The diagnosis shocked me. Even though my father had Alzheimer’s and passed away in 2002. And even though I was doing all of these things: stumbling and missing appointments. To hear the words, you may think you have something but when a doctor looks you in the eye and says, ‘you have early-onset Alzheimer’s.’ It takes your breath away.

Had you always written poetry?

Oh no! I never even read poetry. I don’t really know what poetry is really.

This was sudden turn down a road you never expected to travel:

I was possessed by something far greater than myself.  Words came to me that I didn’t even know the meaning of. I had done a little writing, but poetry? Not even.

What did you think?

I truly thought I was being possessed! It was through that process that I understood where I was and the choices I had before me. Anger with doctors. Mad, ‘why me?’ And then came this grace kind of that said, ‘hey, you can make a difference.’

That’s when I decided I had to out myself. I had to speak out and say, ‘I’m forgetting appointments, places and things.’ I’m forgetting the streets I’ve traveled on for 50 years. I’ve lived in Las Vegas for 50 years and I would be on a street that I knew well and I wouldn’t know… I didn’t forget how to drive… but I would pull over think, ‘okay what street am I on?’

So I chose to read this poem “Blue. River. Apple” at a business meeting with 50 friends.  

How did that feel?

I had no idea what I found and it was sheer silence. You could have dropped a pin in that room. You don’t have a lot of time in a business meeting like that. You get your eight minutes and then you sit down and that’s what I did. And everyone was just aghast.

Do you worry about your daughters?

I absolutely do worry about them. When I made the decision to out myself, I then made the decision that I was really outing my children also and bringing them through a different phase of my life that they didn’t ask for.

I have two daughters Michelle and Jennifer. They each handle it differently. And there are tears in their eyes a lot when we talk or when I’m having a bad day. It’s my life now to speak about Alzheimer’s and how we can help one another get through it. 


Desert Southwest Chapter Alzheimer's Association

Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Nancy Nelson, author and poet, "Blue, River, Apple"

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