Eight Wisconsin public libraries have formed a partnership to provide programs for people with dementia. It’s called the Library Memory Project. Their main activity is to host twice monthly “memory cafes” for people with early stage dementia and a care partner.
Each semi-monthly gathering has a theme, often designed to spark memories of earlier times. Some examples:
- Independence Day. Participants gathered at the Hartland Library to sing favorite patriotic songs, test their knowledge of Independence Day and U.S. history, and enjoy cake with old and new friends.
- Tie-dye. Franklin Library hosted a gathering where participants made tie-died socks, tried 60s trivia, and sang oldies.
- Streets of Old Milwaukee. A speaker joined the group at Muskego Public Library to give a talk and show artifacts from the Milwaukee Public Museum.
These Wisconsin libraries are committed to serving the population with dementia. In addition to the memory cafes, they also regularly host programs for the general public about brain health and brain fitness. The Library Memory Project was named Outstanding Organization of the Year by the Alzheimer’s Association, Wisconsin Network.
Emma Rose Sparrow saw a need for books designed for people with cognitive problems when both of her parents were diagnosed with dementia. She believed these books should be formatted for easy reading, depending on the reader’s abilities. And they should look like regular books the reader would be proud to own. She has written and self-published 20 books for people with dementia. You’ll find them all on Emma’s Amazon page.
Emma defined three levels for her books. The Sandy Shoreline is an example of Level 3. It’s a 7 chapter story in just 44 pages. It features large print, extra space between sentences, and color photos throughout. Other titles in the Level 3 series are What the Wind Showed to Me, A Dusting of Snow, Three Things, Autumn’s Display, and Down by the Meadow.
Books in Level 2 place more emphasis on photos and less on words. The books in this series focus on colors. In A Year’s Worth of Yellow each page is independent of the others and includes a color picture with 1 or 2 short sentences to describe it. Other books in the Level 2 series are A Potpourri of Pink, A Parcel of Purple, An Ocean of Orange, A Gathering of Green, A Reservoir of Red, A World of White, and A Bevy of Blue.
Level 1 books are for readers who can no longer read words, but enjoy holding and paging through books. They’re picture books for adults. The titles in this series are The Splendor of Footbridges, The Splendor of Birds, The Splendor of Mother & Child Animals, The Splendor of Window Boxes, The Splendor of Babies, and The Splendor of Forests.
How can public libraries make sure they’re dementia friendly? Here are some suggestions about services, collection development, and physical space from Minnesota’s ACT on Alzheimer’s:
- Train staff and volunteers to understand dementia.
- Host programs that offer meaningful engagement for people with dementia.
- Include in the collection books, audiobooks, magazines, music, and videos that can engage people with dementia.
- Make sure the needs of people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds with dementia are served.
- Offer individual appointments with dementia sufferers and their caregivers to help them choose library materials.
- Create memory boxes for circulation that include childhood toys, board games, crafts from previous decades, and local memorabilia for circulation.
- Take library services to senior living communities and adult day care settings.
- Make sure the library’s physical space includes appropriate signage, well lit entrances, non-slippery flooring, and a family/unisex restroom.
Looking for more detail? You’ll find the document Dementia Friendly Libraries on the ACT on Alzheimer’s website.
British publisher Pictures to Share started offering books for dementia patients in 2005. Their research showed that people with dementia gradually lose the ability to read traditional books, magazines and newspapers because of the complicated layouts and small print. So they developed a series of books with pictures and short texts on a variety of topics. Some of the pictures are photographs while others are paintings and drawings.
There are 18 books in the Pictures to Share catalog, with titles like Family Life, Childhood Days, and In the Garden. The pictures and text in these books are intended to spark conversation and laughter. For example, in paging through Spending Time Indoors I came across a picture of an old man with a child. The text says “My grandkids believe I’m the oldest thing in the world. And after two or three hours with them, I believe it too.”
People with dementia can enjoy the Pictures to Share books by themselves, with a loved one, or in a group setting. Excellent!
The activity director at Mom’s memory care community usually arrives around the time residents are finishing breakfast. She greets each person by name and offers them copies of “The Silly News.” That’s her name for The Daily Chronicle, a resource available from Activity Connection.
Each edition of The Daily Chronicle includes a quote of the day, historical happenings, famous birthdays, and trivia. Click on the image at left for a larger version; you’ll get the idea.
I’ve noticed that residents of The Springs react to The Daily Chronicle in different ways. Some glance at it for a short time. Others say “No, thanks.” One carries it around with her for hours. Mom turns it over and says “It’s blank on the back.”
From my perspective, The Daily Chronicle offers something valuable to dementia patients. Even though their cognitive abilities are declining, it gives them something to read. Every day.
What is the public library’s role in serving people with dementia? Faith Brautigam, Director of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library offers some suggestions in her article “Memory Care at Your Library.” Brautigam discusses two ways to serve this population — through programming and through staff training.
The Library Memory Project in Wisconsin is one example of programming. Participating libraries host monthly gatherings, called Memory Cafés, for those with early stage dementia and a care partner. The Brooklyn Public Library’s Words and Memories program is another one. Both of these programs seek to help dementia patients by encouraging reading, conversation, and sensory experiences.
Library staff training is also important. Brautigam mentions a project at the Chapel Hill Public Library where staff participated in special training to earn a community dementia-friendly designation that promotes understanding and respect for people who are memory impaired. The American Library Association also offers training ideas in its document “Keys to Engaging Older Adults @ Your Library.”
What services for dementia patients does your public library offer?
The NLS has a tag line that touches me: That all may read. It’s a worthy goal.
NLS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a program of the Library of Congress that serves people with low vision, blindness, or physical disabilities that prevent them from reading or holding the printed page. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS offers books in braille or audio formats, mailed to your door for free, or instantly downloadable.
The NLS BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) service offers downloadable digital audio books and magazines to eligible NLS patrons. There are more than 20,000 digital books and over 40 magazines available for download, with new titles being added regularly. A big advantage of BARD over library e-book services is that there are no wait lists, limits, or due dates.
In addition to BARD, NLS offers guidance on magnifying devices, braille embossers, braille displays and notetakers, accessible mobile reading apps, and audiobook players.
In Oregon, where I live, the NLS program is administered locally by the Talking Book and Braille Library at the State Library in Salem. You can find links to all the state programs on the NLS website.
If you or a loved one are eligible for NLS, I encourage you to learn more about this excellent service.