Libraries Support People Living with Memory Loss
Librarians are making their spaces more inviting for people with memory disorders and their caregivers.
Memory loss resulting from Alzheimer’s or dementia can disrupt the quality of life for adults with this condition. People living with memory loss require extra care, which often comes from a partner or other family members. Alzheimer’s Awareness Month is celebrated in June, making it a great time to consider the impact this mental health condition has on people and those close to them.
Libraries are always looking ahead to anticipate changes in their communities and how they can best accommodate their current and future patrons. Alzheimer’s disease affects approximately five million people in the United States. That number is expected to grow significantly over the next few decades. Considering this prediction, librarians have been brainstorming new ways to support patrons living with memory loss.
Curated Collections of Circulating Memory Kits
Most libraries offer a unique collection beyond books, music, and movies. Some circulate tools, gardening supplies, Legos, and laptops. They often refer to this collection as a ‘Library of Things.’
Kits may also be part of a Library of Things and usually come packaged as a bag or box of themed items. Traditionally kits were typically children’s picture books with accompanying CDs. Now, kits have expanded to include adult materials, such as specialized kits for adults living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Often referred to as memory kits, these collections contain objects, books, music, and videos intended to be used by caregivers to spark discussion, stimulate memories, and encourage communication.
The St. Charles Public Library offers a collection of memory kits consisting of tote bags filled with books, objects, games, DVDs, and music CDs covering themes such as spring and pets. Patrons can check out these kits just as they would books or other materials.
The White Oak Library District offers a collection of Favorite Things. The Memory Care kits also include a guide with resources, tips, and conversation starters to help caregivers engage in the activities with their loved ones.
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Memory Cafes Encourage Socialization
What is a memory cafe, you ask? These are social gatherings explicitly designed for those with conditions that impact memory. Library staff takes extra measures to help people with Alzheimer’s and dementia feel comfortable in their space. People experiencing memory loss can become overwhelmed in unfamiliar territory. Libraries help make it easier for them to navigate the library by providing clear, easy-to-see signage and staff throughout the building to assist with directions as needed.
The Library Memory Project, a collaboration of library systems in Wisconsin, organizes memory cafes. Patrons can enjoy entertaining musical performances, book discussions, and arts and crafts activities. These library systems work together to hold monthly memory cafes that rotate among participating libraries. The events are open to people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other conditions involving memory loss and their partner, caregiver, or family members. Members of the local ministry group and Alzheimer’s Association are also encouraged to join in on memory cafes. To ensure that all interested patrons are accommodated, some memory cafe sessions offer the option to attend virtually or in person.
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Music Therapy for Memory Disorders
Music has been found to have a powerful impact on people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Libraries are helping make the benefits of music therapy more accessible by scheduling music therapy programming and offering personalized music collections for checkout.
The New York Public Library’s Harlem branch offers a Dedicated Dementia concert as part of a series with the not-for-profit organization Concerts in Motion. This online concert is hosted by a licensed social worker with carefully selected musicians familiar with the needs of people living with cognitive decline.
The Lewes Public Library is one of many libraries participating in the Music & Memory program. Patrons fill out an application to speak with a volunteer about their musical preferences. A customized selection of music is loaded to an MP3 player that the patron can check out and enjoy at home or on the go.
Dementia Friendly Libraries
Many libraries throughout the country are registering their staff for training to earn recognition as Dementia Friendly libraries. The Dementia Friends initiative trains organizations on how to best support people living with memory loss.
Perceptual impairment related to memory disorders can cause a person to become confused or overwhelmed in unfamiliar settings. Colors that are too similar can make objects appear to blend, making it more challenging to discern one from the other. Dark or shadowy areas can also create visual discomfort for someone whose perception is impaired. Dementia Friends helps staff modify their libraries to make them easy to use for those living with memory loss. Some things you may notice in Dementia Friendly libraries are:
- Plenty of easy-to-read signage to prevent confusion or disorientation
- Adequate lighting that is bright but not too harsh to accommodate impaired perception
- Contrasting colors in furniture, walls, and flooring to make it easy to discern objects
Suppose you weren’t already familiar with memory disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia symptoms. In that case, the above modifications might not be on your radar. Initiatives like Dementia Friends help library staff understand life from the perspective of someone living with memory loss. To know how to interact with them and help them feel comfortable in the library setting.
By making the extra effort to make the library Dementia Friendly, librarians hope to help people living with memory loss and their caregivers feel safe when visiting the library. Staff is better prepared to assist those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and the extra measures help alleviate confusion so that these patrons will keep coming back.
Find Support for Memory Loss at Your Public Library
The benefits of Dementia Friendly libraries for people living with memory loss and their loved ones are immense. As a source of socialization and support and a resource to help families live their best quality of life. It’s a learning experience for library staff and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, but libraries are making significant strides.
If you or someone you love is living with memory loss, reach out to your local library. Learn about the Alzheimer’s and dementia programs and their modifications to enhance your visit.