In recent years, there has been a sharp rise in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, related dementias, and cognitive impairments. Caregiving for those with cognitive impairments and memory loss can be particularly stressful, and can adversely affect even casual interactions and visits. Often, family members receive little to no information about Alzheimer’s and related dementias at diagnosis and how these impairments may affect their loved one. Ramsey County Library created Memory Minders: A Kit for Caregivers to assist those who are caring for someone with dementia or cognitive impairments and to share library resources that will help create positive engagement and meaningful interactions.
A Fortuitous Partnership
Roseville, Minnesota is fortunate to be home to the Roseville Alzheimer’s and Dementia Community Action Team (Rsvl A/D), which is an alliance devoted to improving conditions for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and their unpaid caregivers. Members of this alliance include community members, municipal staff, aging services professionals, school district personnel, and starting in 2016, the Ramsey County Library.
Ramsey County Library’s (RCL) partnership with Rsvl A/D has been a fruitful one. In 2016, RCL joined the Rsvl A/D and together we brought a speaker series to the library. Dementia: Caring & Coping is a monthly series of expert speakers and Q&A on topics related to dementia, individuals with cognitive impairment, and dementia caregiving. In addition, a grant from Thrivent Financial to Rsvl A/D allowed RCL to purchase the Caregiver Collection, a collection of books for care partners of those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or memory loss.
Sharing Caregiver Resources in the Community
Early in the partnership, RCL explored the idea of a lendable resource bag containing information, activities, games, books, music, and creative projects that could enhance life for the person being cared for and also provide supportive material for caregivers. The Rsvl A/D team—who are strongly connected to informational resources for those with dementia—researched, brainstormed, and suggested what materials should be included in these bags. Monica Heltemes, an occupational therapist and the owner of Mindstart®, visited a Rsvl A/D meeting to share information about her business. She works with manufacturers to produce and sell innovative products designed for people with dementia. After further discussion and resource collection, the shape of the caregiver bags came together.
Raising Funds and Awareness
As the team firmed up the contents and concept of the bags, which we decided to call Memory Minders: A Kit for Caregivers, one of the team members suggested reaching out to local senior living communities to see if there was interest in sponsoring the bags. Often, memory care and senior living communities have funds available for marketing purposes. The team crafted a solicitation letter offering premier sponsorships, including sponsor logos prominently displayed on the bags’ labels, and sponsor names used in marketing materials. The Friends of Ramsey County Libraries agreed to solicit funds on the library’s behalf.
Our budget for the bags was $5,000-$6,000, so our Friends sent six solicitation letters to local senior living communities, offering $1,000 sponsorships for the project’s first year. Four communities responded immediately with their interest, and to get the project started, RCL’s Friends group provided the last $1,000. RCL was able to purchase the materials for sixty bags with the $5,000 and circulate them from our two largest libraries.
Memory Minders – A Kit for Caregivers are intended to be used by caregivers who are caring for people experiencing memory loss. The materials in these kits are specifically selected to spark memories, create conversation, and allow positive and engaging interactions between people with Alzheimer’s and dementia and their caregivers. These kits are also useful to those who are not primary caregivers but would like to have a constructive and positive interaction with seldom-seen relatives or friends. The kits also bring attention to resources available in the community and the library for people with memory loss and their caregivers.
Each Memory Minders Kit consists of a durable, zippered pouch with a laminated list of the contents and a selection of the following:
– A specific activity for use with patrons with memory loss (such as a puzzle, bingo, conversation cards, lacing activities, activity books, aquapainting, or various activities from MindStart® or related companies)
– One or two books with large and colorful illustrations and conversational prompts to spark memories and discussion
– A CD with music to soothe and create a pleasant environment
– The book A Caregiver’s Guide to Dementia: Using Activities and Other Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Manage Behavioral Symptoms by Laura Gitlin
– A copy of the Caregiver Collection book list
The Fine Print and Details
– Memory Minders Kits are available at our two largest branch libraries, Roseville and Shoreview, but can be requested to pick up at any of our seven branches.
– The checkout period is three weeks, but the kits are renewable.
– Kits must be returned to the service desk, where staff will check the contents.
– Kits are divided into High, Middle and Low Activity levels and correspond with early, middle and late-stage dementia.
Positive, Immediate Feedback
Once sponsorship was secured, it was about eight weeks to order, process and catalog the kits. In February 2016, the kits were made available for checkout. The program drew local media attention, and a feature on the evening news resulted in an avalanche of inquiries. Within a week, all 60 kits were checked out of the libraries.
The response from patrons and caregivers has been enormously gratifying. A caregiver commented to staff that after learning about the bags, “I just feel so refreshed.” We’ve seen people come into the library with their loved one with memory loss and select a bag together. One woman needed to get a library card again after 50 years–she had been using her husband’s card–so she could check out a bag. The bags are bright yellow and highly visible on the shelves in the library. We are pleased to be able to share this resource with caregivers, who often need many levels of support.
Next Steps: Year Two and Travel Kits
The caregiver bags proved so popular during their debut that members of Rsvl A/D decided to offer a modification of the kits. The Memory Minders: Travel Kit contains a series of materials designed to facilitate safe travel for someone with dementia and their caregiver. Items include emergency contact information, an emergency travel medical form, suggestions for essential items to bring along during local and extended travel, etc. Plans are underway to make free copies of these kits available (for patrons to keep) through the library.
RCL and Rsvl A/D are launching our second year of the Memory Minders: A Kit for Caregivers project. Another $5,000 has been raised for these kits through additional sponsorships. This second edition of Memory Minders will include kits specific to Lewy Body Dementia and to helping children understand their loved one with dementia.
Librarians across the country have reached out to RCL for help in replicating this project in their own communities. It is our hope that sharing this information freely will help other libraries care for their caregivers.