As the long nights of winter draw nearer, one of my favorite seasonal comforts is curling up with a mug of tea and a fuzzy blanket, and picking up an engrossing novel from the stack of books that I picked up on my latest trip to my local public library. Libraries are a fantastic resource for this reason alone – hours and hours of cozy winter entertainment, all for free with your library card. But books are just the tip of the iceberg. As libraries adapt and integrate new technologies, they are becoming more useful and relevant than ever. Best of all, since many of the newer resources are available online, you don’t even have to leave your tea and fuzzy blanket to access them. While someone with dementia (a usually progressive condition, such as Alzheimer’s, marked by the development of several cognitive deficits) may be losing their ability to read and/or make sense of certain words they can still often enjoy listening to a book read aloud, looking through coffee-table type books with lots of photos, and listening to music. I shared time with a retired Air Force General who loved leafing through a Museum of Flight photo book and really perked up and shared more words than he had in recent months when looking at some specific planes!
• Cozy up with a good movie. You might be aware that you can check out VHS and DVD movies from your library, but did you know you can also stream movies from home? Many libraries offer free movies using platforms like Kanopy. Check your local library to see what they offer, and enjoy connecting with your loved one with a good movie.
• Turn up the tunes. Music can offer powerful moments of connection for individuals with dementia. Streaming or downloading music from home, using a library service, is an increasingly available option – all for free! Check with your librarian or library website to see if Freegal, Hoopla, or other music service is offered.
• Get the latest scoop from your favorite magazine. If you have a tablet, e-reader, or laptop, you and your loved ones can read your favorite magazines for free. Whether you’re into Better Homes & Gardens, Popular Science, Woodworker’s Journal, or all of the above, many libraries now offer digital magazines through services like RBDigital Magazines.
• Listen to a book. There’s nothing like having someone read aloud to you, but it can be taxing for someone to read a 400-page novel out loud at home! This is where the professionals come in, and it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon with loved ones. Most libraries offer online services offering hundreds of thousands of audio books. You can download an app to your phone such as Overdrive or Libby, connect it to your library card number, and instantly start listening to a book.
• Read, the paper-free way. Services like Overdrive also offer e-books, which are simply the same books you’d find printed on paper, but that you read on your tablet, e-reader, or laptop. This is a super convenient way to keep up your reading habit, without the hassle of going back and forth to your local branch to check out and return books.
• Curl up with a page-turner. Of course, print books remain the heart of the library. At different stages of dementia, reading abilities and needs can change. In addition to standard print books, libraries offer many ways to access the pleasure of turning a page. Check out your library’s selection of print magazines, newspapers, photography/art books, illustrated books (such as image-rich cookbooks or field guides), graphic novels, and comic books. Have fun exploring new reading genres and formats.
• Learn a language, discover your ancestry, start a business – all from your recliner. Many libraries have an extraordinary number of free online tools and databases. For example, the Seattle Public Library offers a long list of genealogical reference tools, and even offers in-person consultations with a genealogy librarian. Libraries may also offer program such as Mango Languages, an online program to learn 70+ languages. You can also find a plethora of trustworthy legal, business, and medical information sources. Ask a librarian to point you in the right direction.
• Ask your local librarian. Librarians are professionals highly trained in the art of finding information. Whether you want to learn more about a specific medical condition, you want some ideas for crafts you can do with your loved one, or you just want a recommendation for your next favorite novel, ask a librarian. They’re in the business of answering questions, and chances are good that they will have some great answers for you. Amazingly, this is just a very short list of all that libraries have to offer. You might also find services like access to 3-D printers, GoPro cameras available for checkout, a variety of free classes, topical book clubs, storytimes for kids, and much, much more. Every library is a little different, so get to know your local library system’s website, pop down to your local branch to chat with a librarian, and discover all that the library has to offer.