Libraries Address Brain Health

An insightful article by our international correspondent Paula, Librarian at Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, Weston-super-Mare, UK.

COVID-19 has made us think differently about so many aspects of our health and well-being, including making sure we take care of what’s going on with our brain health. And while a little bit of the right kind of stress can be motivating, too much can leave us frozen, suffering from ‘brain fog,’ and even unable to function.

Although it’s not the same as dementia, ‘brain fog’ has also been observed as a symptom that affects some people during the COVID-19 pandemic. In most cases, however, patients recover from ‘brain fog.’

So how can we combat that? How can library and information professionals help? Not every NHS or public library has a clear-cut role in helping to provide health information for patients and the public, but many do.

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Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

June 2022 is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month; the condition is a serious one that will affect so many of us, either directly or through our friends and relatives. In 2020 experts estimated that over 50 million people worldwide have Alzheimer’s Disease, increasing all the time. By 2050, if current projections are correct, there will be 132 million people worldwide with the condition.

Stress and Dementia

Some researchers believe that there is a link between stress and dementia. The link may be related to cortisol, the stress hormone our bodies release in times of stress.

As librarians, how can we help our users learn more about these conditions, including some options to help combat brain fog and minimize stress? We can’t offer advice when referring people to their local healthcare professional, but we can provide signposting and information.

Health Resources

There curated Reading Well collections in public libraries across England, including one for dementia. Some of these are overviews of the condition clinicians use, such as the ABC of Dementia. In contrast, others aim at caregivers and relatives, and the “In Pictures” series offers visual prompts to help readers remember situations and events.

There are also specific techniques to minimize the risk of dementia, including smoking cessation, not overindulging in alcohol, and eating a sensible diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. (Yes, we’ve got books on all of those and details of local groups to help motivate people.) Staying hydrated is another important aspect of brain health — our brains consist of around 73% water.

Exercising can also help — 150 minutes per week of cycling or fast walking, or other “moderate-intensity” aerobic activity, assuming fitness allows. And then there’s keeping an eye on your blood pressure — one of the recent popular additions to some of the top public libraries in Somerset is the “Check your blood pressure” option, courtesy of two new devices. Health coaches are now on hand weekday mornings, and there’ll be more about their work in a future article. With support from the Clinical Commissioning Group on the broader county, several more devices should be loaned out to library members in their own homes very shortly.

As librarians, how can we help users combat or cope with stress and work towards healthy brain health? Reading can keep your mind active. In Somerset library, members also get free access to online magazines, including puzzles and Sudoku. Some libraries in the UK also have loneliness groups set up, and locally for us, this week saw the arrival of two ‘magic’ projectors in the two largest Somerset towns of Taunton and Yeovil. The interactive dementia-friendly projectors for ‘virtual’ painting, football, and using a xylophone can be great for reducing stress and helping maintain brain health.

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Showing Support

Librarians also give other signs and symbols that show support — wearing purple can show solidarity, for instance, even if it’s just one of the ribbon pins attached to clothing. If you feel like joining in on social media, there are two valuable hashtags, #AlzheimersAndBrainAwarenessMonth and #EndAlz.

If you’re in the UK, you could also wear a forget-me-not badge, a campaign launched in 2021 to highlight the condition. It doesn’t necessarily mean the wearer has the condition. It can mean that the wearer remembers a loved one or demonstrates their support.

The brain is our single most important organ — so we need to keep it healthy and not submit it to any unnecessary stress.