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Public Libraries Provide Services, Programs For Dementia Patients And Their Caregivers

Photo by Steve Pearcy

In March, during one of the Alzheimer's Association's classes on Living with Memory Loss presented at The Library Center in Springfield, Deb Bryer from the  Alzheimer's Association St. Louis Chapter got the crowd in a jovial mood.

"I'm going to ask a question:   if you can answer 'yes' to the question, you get a 'kiss.'" As the attendees started laughing, she was quick to add, "It's a CHOCOLATE kiss! We're keeping it clean in here!"   

Various public libraries throughout this area and across the country provide access to social and informational programs and other services for people dealing with dementia and memory loss, as well as their loved ones and caregivers.

For example, the Baxter County Library in Mountain Home, Arkansas, which also serves portions of extreme south central Missouri, presents a monthly story time for dementia patients and their caregivers called "Forgotten Tales."

And the Springfield-Greene County Library District offers various programs, most in collaboration with the Alzheimer's Association. Library district spokeswoman Kathleen O'Dell told KSMU how their outreach programs began.

"In 2012 one of our librarians, Tysha Shay, has a family member who has dementia, and she recognized from her own experience that this was a huge need for people with dementia as well as families. And so she launched a program through the Library called 'Stories for Life.' We have outreach staff that go out to about five different residential facilities in the Springfield area. We take these 'memory kits' to residential facilities where there are dementia patients, and they are full of photographs and music and poems. And they show them photographs and they help them reminisce, and sometimes they sing songs, because we know that music and movies and pictures and talking about things really helps stimulate people with dementia," O'Dell said.

Other programs that have been offered by the Library district include things like "Music and Memories" and "Memory Cafe."

But according to Kathleen O'Dell, neither of those lasted very long.

"Over time, the attendance was just very poor," said O'Dell. She suspects some people may have avoided attending because the programs would have identified them as individuals with dementia.

"So we redirected our efforts into hosting workshops for those families," O'Dell said.

One of the most popular workshops offered by the Alzheimer's Association at the Library Center is Living with Memory Loss.

Kristen Hilty is a care consultant with the Alzheimer's Association.

"Those classes really seek to link individuals and families with other people who are experiencing the same kind of situations with their families. And then it also gives them information and education that they need to have related to the disease. They're my favorites," Hilty said.

"And then we have other classes that meet in the libraries as well, like our 'Understanding Alzheimer's' class, which basically is an overview of everything related to Alzheimer's and other dementias. We have a communication class. We have a legal and financial planning class. And then we have our '10 Warning Signs' class. Libraries are used as one of our partner locations because they're accessible to everyone. They're seen as a neutral territory, non-threatening. Everybody knows their local public library. So they're just a good centralized resource and they have wonderful spaces," Hilty said.

On March 10th in the Library Center's Meeting Room A, Deb Bryer of the St. Louis Alzheimer's Association office office conducted the first of what were supposed to be four classes on 'Living with Memory Loss' for early-stage patients and their caregivers. She started the session with fun quizzes and exercises for the nearly 40 people in attendance. But then she got more serious.

"We at the Alzheimer's Association recognize that people who have memory loss are not defined by it. All of us at the Alzheimer's Association look at you as whole people. We do not just look at you as a person with memory loss or a care partner. And we'll talk a lot about living with memory loss and a lot about being a care partner. But that's not all there is to you--and we know that," Bryer said.

These Tuesday evening sessions were scheduled weekly through the end of March. Then the COVID-19 pandemic put a premature stop to lots of things, including this workshop.

"After the Coronavirus pandemic occurred, all in-person programs were canceled through August 31st," said Springfield-Greene County Library Community Relations Director Kathleen O'Dell.

But, she added, the library district still makes materials available to nursing homes and caregivers.

"We still have memory cards for 'Stories for Life,'" O'Dell said. "And we were actually able to use leftover money from a senior mental health grant that we received to create more of those memory kits. People can check them out on, or they can call the library branch and reserve them and pick them up."

The Library is also helping promote the online versions of the Alzheimer's Association's popular programs and workshops. For information, visit or call (417) 883-5366.