4 Ways Your Library Can Serve Your Aging Population
The population in the United States is aging. Today, 46 million Americans are age 65 or older. This number is projected to more than double by 2060 and make up nearly 24 percent of the total population. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are also becoming more prevalent. With 5.7 million Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s, experts estimate this number could be as high as 14 million by 2050.
As safe, inclusive spaces, libraries can be excellent resources for individuals suffering from dementia, and libraries are continuing to find ways to offer unique and relevant services to senior populations. Yet those living with dementia, as well as their caregivers — who are the primary resource-seekers — are sometimes overlooked.
What can your library do to become dementia friendly and connect with and expand its offerings to people in your community living with or caring for those with these health issues? Read on for some ideas on how to get started, as shared in Demco Software’s webinar, “Make Your Library Dementia Friendly,” led by Mary Beth Riedner, past Chair of the Alzheimer’s & Related Dementias Interest Group/ASCLA/ALA, and Tysha Shay, Reference Manager for the Springfield Greene County (MO) Library.
1. Host a Memory Cafe
Your library is the perfect place to host a memory cafe. These are safe and inviting gathering spaces where those with memory loss and their caregivers can socialize, listen to music, play games, and enjoy other activities. The goal is for those with dementia and their caregivers to spend quality time together and make connections with others who are challenged in the same way, lessening the stigma and isolation of dementia. Your library’s memory cafe can have structured activities or be more informal. Invite those at any stage of memory loss progression and their loved ones to socialize, reminisce, and have a positive experience together.
2. Stimulate Memories with a Creative Workshop
Creative arts workshops provide participants with an outlet to find meaningful creative expression through visual, literary, musical, and performing arts. Whether it’s through a paint night activity or a sing-a-long session, libraries that offer these workshops become safe spaces to have fun, reminisce, and be creative.
The Gail Borden (IL) Public Library offers such a space through their innovative, one-hour “Tales and Travel Memories” program, selected as a 2017 Library of Congress Literacy Awards Program Best Practice Honoree. The program takes participants on imaginary trips to other countries or regions of the United States. Books, music, objects, folktales, and lists of interesting facts from the locale stimulate memories and spark conversations among participants and their caregivers. To allow other libraries to take advantage of the program, the Tales and Travel Memories website offers a free toolbox with 12 excursion guides and 31 folktales accessible through a Creative Commons license.
3. Engage Community Members at Home
For aging populations, outreach opportunities can be just as important as in-house programming, especially given that many seniors may be unable to travel to your physical branch. The St. Charles (IL) Public Library offers Educational & Engagement kits for checkout to local senior facilities. Each kit focuses on one topic designed to spark conversation, such as “Remembering Movie Stars,” and contains 10 laminated booklets with researched facts and photos, as well as four to five objects on the theme to enhance the kit. St. Charles also offers Caregiver Kits for checkout, which are designed for one-on-one settings. Themes are based on topics older adult populations would remember, such as “Laughing with Lucy,” and include combinations of DVDs, CDs, and coffee table books.
4. Promote Wellness with a Focus on Brain Fitness
Offering brain fitness resources is another way in which libraries can help support not only the senior population but community members of all ages, including those who are suffering from dementia. East Central (MN) Regional Library offers Brain Fitness Kits for checkout for this purpose. Each kit contains four games recommended by the Alzheimer’s Association and Mayo Clinic that are designed to build brain power. While designed for those with dementia, these kits are entertaining to patrons of all ages.
BrainHQ, offered to public libraries through Demco Software, is another great resource that not only engages senior patrons, but will benefit anyone who regularly uses the online exercises. This suite of scientifically proven, online brain-training exercises is designed to help people think faster, focus better, and remember more.
Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias can be a sensitive topic, but the library is the perfect place for those living with or caring for those with dementia to find helpful programs and resources. November is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, so now is a great time to start taking action, whether you start small with an Alzheimer’s Awareness book display or are ready to take bigger steps. Watch our full “Make Your Library Dementia Friendly” webinar to learn what other libraries are doing and how you can better support this segment of your community!
“Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States,” Population Reference Bureau