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.
Combining a community’s senior center with a branch of the public library is a trend that’s taking hold in many areas.
In some cases the branch library is embedded in the senior center, but administered by the city’s library staff. The Senior Center Branch in Klamath Falls, Oregon, pictured here, follows this model. Unfortunately, access to the library is limited to just three partial days per week for a total of 9.5 hours per week.
Some communities have built multipurpose centers to provide a variety of services across generations. The Winston Community Center in Winston, Oregon, for example, includes a computer lab, branch library, senior center, volunteer exchange, and community partnership program all in the same building.
In other communities, volunteers organize and staff a library for the senior center. In the Dennis Township, NJ Senior Center, volunteers have developed a color-coded system of categories, entered their holdings in a database, and established two-week check-outs. This library is open five days per week, the same hours as the senior center itself.
Each of these approaches works because they provide inviting spaces where seniors can read, borrow books and, enjoy the company of other seniors. I hope to see this trend continue.
As I mentioned in my last post, the public library where I live has children and teen rooms. Books in these areas are categorized by age level: Picture Books for toddlers; Early Readers for grades K-2; Juvenile for grades 3-5; and Young Adult for grades 6-12. Books in the rest of the library are for adults.
I’d like to see libraries develop a similar set of categories for elders who are experiencing cognitive decline. Here are some possible categories that correspond to the three stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Senior reading. This category is for people with mild cognitive decline. Fiction titles would offer simple story lines, a minimal number of characters, and be relatively short. Nonfiction titles would avoid highly technical jargon and provide illustrations.
- Easy reading. People with moderate cognitive decline typically can’t keep track of the plot and characters in full length novels, so short stories would work best for those who enjoy reading fiction. Highly illustrated magazines and nonfiction books would also be good easy reading choices.
- Reading aloud. Those with severe cognitive decline can’t read any more, but might enjoy having loved ones read aloud to them. Simple short stories, poetry, and magazine articles would be good choices.
I’m compiling reading lists for these three categories and will post them here soon.
Mom’s assisted living community has a library for residents. It’s an inviting space with a gas fireplace, easy chairs, and a coffee table.
It’s well organized too. Fiction titles are marked with the first three letters of the author’s last name. Nonfiction is organized by the Dewey Decimal System.
One day I noticed the library was overflowing with books, so I volunteered to work on it. To make room, I pulled out duplicates, books with tiny type, and titles on obscure topics. I found a different home for the coffee table books. And I labeled everything.
At first it was going to be a project Mom and I would work on together. She lost interest after the first day, so I worked on it when she napped.
Here are some tips for managing libraries in assisted living communities:
- Identify a resident, staff member, or volunteer who will commit to maintaining the library.
- Don’t be afraid to pull donated books that won’t be read. You can donate them to your local Friends of the Public Library.
- Surveys indicate that seniors prefer to read light romance, biographies, westerns, mysteries, travel, and newspapers. Don’t allow the library to be a dumping ground for dated textbooks or titles on fringe politics.
- You don’t need a check-out system. Most likely, you’ll have more books than you need; it doesn’t matter if any given book isn’t returned.
- See if there’s interest among residents in starting a book group. This can be a fun way to encourage reading and socializing.