By: Sally Inglett, President & Founder, MEternally, LLC
A dementia-friendly movement is sweeping the nation, and for good reason. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that almost 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related diseases, and a projected 14 million will be by 2050 unless a cure is found. We need to be concerned that these populations, along with personal and professional caregivers, are considered when creating offerings for patrons. The time has come where most lives are impacted by or connected to someone with dementia or a caregiver. Libraries are responding to the needs of personal and professional caregivers from both home and facility care environments by providing kits that facilitate meaningful activities.
Reminiscence therapy was conceived in the 1960s with the idea that looking back at our lives and recalling, discussing and interacting with someone in the present is therapeutic. Reminiscence is an activity that anyone can take part in and benefit from. The idea seems simple enough until dementia is added to the mix. Connecting with a person with dementia can be incredibly frustrating, but once you make a connection it is both rewarding and meaningful.
As a personal caregiver to my mother when she was alive, and now to my younger brother, I admit that making this connection has changed the way I interact with all people, and live my life. This also inspired me to create reminiscence products for seniors and I have been providing them to activity professionals in facilities, and personal caregivers for years. These products are based on an individual’s Favorite Things such as classic cars, fishing, pets, farming, canning, birds, or even their patriotic spirit. By recalling positive experiences from the past, we can not only validate their self-worth but also help people connect using conversation and storytelling about their interests. By doing so they may find comfort, a release from boredom and a lift from depression and loneliness.
The variety and possibilities for reminiscence and activity kits in libraries are limitless. By providing individuals or facilities with “Memory Kits or Caregiver Kits,” we are creating a group of related items at their disposal. Some libraries create their own kits, some start with a base item and build the kit around it, others purchase pre-made kits. A great many activity directors tell me that they receive very limited funding (about $100 per month) and what they do receive is primarily used for bingo prizes or craft supplies. By providing kits in libraries you are able to not only help them out financially but provide a much-needed service through a variety of resources that can be used and reused by many.
The key attributes that I have found in kits are that they are theme-based and include activities not only for the senior but for the caregiver or family as well. The kits include a list of contents and they are housed in a storage container that works for the particular library or bookmobile. Some use plastic bins, canvas bags, boxes, backpacks or other assorted storage containers. We have added several formats of kits for libraries based on how much they want to participate in creating their kits, and have been creating custom kits for some libraries. It has been fun and rewarding to see them come together.
A great example is the Vernon Area Public Library in Lincolnshire, Illinois. They have created an assortment of Caregiver Kits in clear backpacks. Most of their kits include our Favorite Things DVD and Photo/Activity Cards, with a variety of other items such as puzzles, books for enjoyment and others for knowledge, trivia, and tactile objects such as miniature figures, seed packets, feathers, and other items of interest that fit the theme.
The key for libraries is to communicate with local nursing facilities, activity professionals or caregivers and start with a few kits and build from there based on what patrons are asking for. Don’t forget to reach out to your local Alzheimer’s Association, research if there is grant money available, and be sure to spread the word about what’s new. Most of all, have fun and play with the kits yourself as it will help you to enhance what you have a create others.