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Keeping reading accessible for people with dementia

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Annie Hudson with one of the new novels.

In 2022 almost 490,000 Australians were living with dementia and over 1.6 million people were involved in the care of someone with dementia. Dementia “is a broad term used to describe a loss of memory, intellect, rationality, social skills and physical functioning” (dementia.org.au, 2022) and watching a loved one suffer is devastating for families. For those diagnosed, the symptoms can make it difficult to do the things that they once loved, including reading a novel.

For lifelong bookworms, being unable to read can have a huge impact on their quality of life. Well-meaning family and friends will often offer short picture books so the bookworm can still partake in their hobby but these childish stories can be offensive and condescending. It’s not the actual act of reading that brings pleasure but immersing oneself in a fictional word, making emotional connections with characters, and indulging in a little escapism.

Bindoon library member, Sue, knows the struggle to find books suitable for her mum who has dementia. “Mum loved books. She always had one ‘on the go’, named her children for story characters, and loved her discussions with other friends about the books she read. Therefore her descent into dementia was heartbreaking when she lost the ability to hold story threads in her mind. She struggled with more than one character and complex plots were beyond her comprehension.”

In an effort to help those who can no longer enjoy a full-length novel, Annie Hudson at the Bindoon Library recently collated a small collection of books that have been especially written for people suffering from dementia, including Alzheimer’s, vascular, and frontotemporal dementia. They are short novels written in large font and have one or two pictures per chapter to give a visual clue to the subject matter. The paragraphs are short and have additional spacing between each one that encourages the mind to take a brief pause.

“The books have been hard to source,” says Annie, “and are quite expensive which makes them difficult to acquire for the average person. Having them in the library collection means that they’re available to all library members and joining the library is free.”

Sue knows firsthand how difficult the books are to acquire. “I turned to the internet and I came across a book Three Things by Emma Rose Sparrow and duly imported it from the USA. From the first time mum opened the book she was entranced and so excited. I subsequently bought another but the postage from the USA was horrendous for a small paperback book so when Annie mentioned she had a range of books by this same author and some others especially for dementia patients I was over the moon.”

The books have already proven to be popular and Annie hopes that they will bring joy to those who read them. “I can’t even imagine being unable to sit and enjoy a book. If these titles make a difference to even a handful of people within the community, I’ll consider it a win.”
To find out about other accessibility options at the Bindoon Library, such as a magnifying reader device, large print books, and audio books just to name a few, drop by to have a chat to Annie or give her a call on 9576 4610.