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Region 5 Blog March 1st, 2024
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Memory Café at Missoula Public Library honored at 2019 Montana Library Association Conference

Posted by on December 13th, 2019 Posted in: All of Us, Blog, Health Literacy, News from Network Members, Public Libraries
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Guest Post by Amanda Allpress, Senior Outreach Librarian, Missoula Public Library, Missoula, MT

Last year Missoula Public Library received an All of Us Community Health Outreach Award to continue the Memory Café program which was started with a previous grant from the Montana Geriatric Education Center. A Memory Café is a program designed as a social engagement for individuals experiencing memory loss. The goal of the library’s Memory Café is to create a safe, welcoming and supportive space for these individuals as well as their caregivers and family members. Research shows the importance of remaining social throughout the memory loss diagnosis and the café helps to achieve this goal. Once a month the library invites a guest to lead a discussion or activity with the participants. We also have a representative from Missoula Aging Services at each café available to answer questions and connect people with resources.

Participants of the Missoula Public Library Memory Cafe

Participants of the Missoula Public Library’s Memory Cafe pose with a motorcycle as part of their oldies music celebration.

Over the past year our attendance has more than doubled! This past month we had nearly 30 people attend a program with the Montana Astronomical Society about black holes. The speaker was very engaging and was able to keep the conversation going on a very scientific subject. Throughout the past 1.5 years we have had so many wonderful times with our Memory Café group. Some highlights include drumming with a local African drum instructor, a motorcycle photo shoot with live oldies music, a movement and creativity exercise with Turning the Wheel Missoula, and a discussion about homesteading with the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

One couple, who has been attending our Memory Café from its start, shared what the program means to them: “Walking into a Memory Cafe meeting for me is walking into a safe place – a calm place where I can relax.  No matter what Jim says or how often he says it, no one tries to sidle away from him or avoid him, and no one looks at him as if he is tainted in some way.  He is welcomed and encouraged, and he loves feeling as if what he is saying is valued.  For those few hours, I think he feels almost ‘normal’ again, and, especially when there are activities like drumming or the movement activities, he is able to focus outside of himself again.  For those two hours once a month, he is free to interact as he wants, and I am free to let him go.  I can just let Jim be Jim again, and that is priceless for both of us.” This program’s importance to all who attend is summed up so perfectly in this one couple’s experiences and it’s why the library will continue to offer such an experience for its patrons as long as it’s sustainable.

In addition to helping fund our Memory Café program, the All of Us Community Health Outreach Award helped us purchase six circulating activity kits designed for the purpose of spending one-on-one time with a person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Activity directors at local senior care facilities have taken advantage of these kits to use on their memory care units and love the variety of different activities each kit offers: a game, puzzle, DVD, interactive book, fidget toy & activities book for caregivers. We were also able to purchase several Assistive Reading Devices ranging from very simple, e.g. a line bar, to very technical, e.g. a portable video magnifier. Just recently I wrote a small article for the local newspaper announcing these items and circulation is beginning to pick up. The hardest part is letting patrons know that the library has products like these to offer for checkout.

At each Memory Café program, we have made available resources from the NLM including handouts and bookmarks directly related to senior health and handouts with information on the NIH All of Us Research Program. In addition to announcing at cafes that the funds were provided by an All of Us Community Health Outreach award, during our session at the Montana Library Association conference, I informed attendees of opportunities for grant awards through the NNLM and also shared material with them on the NIH All of Us Research Program. In our catalog, the records for the books, activity kits and assistive reading devices include a note that the materials were made possible from the grant and in each of the books there is a thank you bookplate inside the front cover.

Our community has recognized the library’s efforts to include programming and provide materials and assistance to this group of individuals and has commended us for doing so. Beyond our local community, I had the honor of accepting an award on behalf of the Memory Café program at the 2019 Montana Library Association Conference for program of the year! After my experiences facilitating our Memory Café program, I would encourage all public libraries to offer memory specific programming. It’s fulfilling and important work and I know it is making a difference in people’s quality of life.