When Mary Beth Riedner’s husband, Steve, was diagnosed with young-onset dementia, she naturally turned to the library for support.
Riedner, a librarian, found lots of information that helped her, but she didn’t find support services for Steve, so she explored ways to help her husband.
One way Riedner helped him was by focusing on two things he enjoyed: travel and books.
This gave Riedner an idea to help other people with early dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Using guidelines developed by the International Federation of Library Associations, she developed Tales and Travel Memories. This program takes participants who have early or mid-stage dementia on imaginary trips around the world using books, music, folk tales, and fun facts.
After a few years of working alone to share her program with memory care facilities in her area, Riedner hosted a table at an American Library Association conference. There, she found a willing partner in the Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, Illinois.
The program took off.
The Library of Congress recently named Tales and Travel Memories a 2017 Literacy Awards Best Practices Honoree for its evidence-based practice of literacy programming for adults.
Tales and Travel Memories also received a Target Award in 2015 from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Greater Midwest Region. This award funded an opportunity for mixed-method research in partnership with Susan Wesner, DMH, at Judson University.
Dr. Wesner’s study showed that the Tales and Travel Memories program achieves four primary outcomes:
- the reduction of stigma and stereotypes of adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias by demonstrating that elements of cognition remain through the course of the disease;
- positive and improved interactions between and engagement with loved ones and caregivers;
- the improvement of cognitive engagement and social interactions of individuals with dementia; and
- expanding the library’s services to an underserved population.
Have Suitcase Will Travel
“Libraries are uniquely qualified to help people through Tales and Travel because of the wealth of materials we have and our role in the community as a leader and service provider,” said Ben Bahl, who coordinated programs in the community for the Gail Borden Public Library District.
A team of volunteers heads out to memory care facilities twice a week in the Elgin area, located 35 miles west of Chicago. “It’s a chance for those residents to take a little journey through literature and folk tales and experience culture,” said Bahl.
Everything needed for the journey—inflatable globe, artifacts, folk tales, books with pictures, and more—gets packed into a suitcase that librarians and volunteers bring to memory care units.
Usually eight to 12 people participate. “One of the tasks is reading out loud. Each participant reads a paragraph, but sometimes we’ll have people that get so much out of the reading, they just bulldoze on through and read four or five paragraphs,” said Bahl. “It’s empowering—sometimes staff members don’t realize that their residents can read and speak.”
One of the features that Bahl likes best about the program is its flexibility. “It can be customized to suit almost any audience,” he explained. “If someone can’t hold a book, you can print out folk tales and read them out loud.”
“Often people find dementia and people with dementia a little uncomfortable to be around at first, but really, they’re so pleasant and open to do something new,” said Riedner.
The universality of travel makes it an ideal subject for the program. “Travel covers everything—geography, history, arts, culture, economics,” said Riedner.
For many participants, it can be a time to reminisce. “One man talked about going to the Eiffel Tower. Of course, I heard about it three times,” she said with a smile.
Ironically, in her husband’s case, he wouldn’t have been able to participate in Tales and Travel because he lost the ability to speak.
“One thing I learned from my own experience is you need to personalize this to the person’s own background,” she said.
Her husband’s books reflected his interest in motorcycles, home repair, the Wild West, and Vietnam. “You really need to focus on the person’s background, interests, and abilities,” she said. “It’s called person-centered care.”
Riedner, who retired from librarianship at Roosevelt University, volunteers with Tales and Travel, and writes articles and presents at conferences on how libraries can help people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. She recently organized an interest group for the American Library Association. “Many of us have personal stories,” she said.
NLM in Focus asked Riedner what her husband would have thought of Tales and Travel.
“I think he would have been very pleased. He was into ‘how can we participate in research?’ And ‘what can we do to make lemonade out of this?’ I am doing this in his honor,” Riedner said. “That’s my motivation.”
Tales and Travel Memories
Guidelines for Library Services to Persons with Dementia (IFLA: International Federation of Library Associations)
Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Special Interest Group (American Library Association, Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies)
By Kathryn McKay, NLM in Focus writer