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Providing connection main driver of dementia-friendly efforts

Waitaki App

Ashley Smyth

04 July 2024, 1:25 AM

Providing connection main driver of dementia-friendly effortsWaitaki District Libraries customer services online co-ordinator Eileen Armstrong (left) and manager Jenny Bean with some of the dementia-friendly resources they offer. Photo: Ashley Smyth

Making dementia-friendly resources available is a way of keeping people connected, say Waitaki District Libraries staff.

Eileen Armstrong, who works in online customer services at Ōamaru Library, has been the driving force behind the move, after noticing a growing need in the community.

 “We were having, usually carers or family members, coming into the library looking for assistance, and we sort of just grew it from there, seeing what we could do to help,” Eileen says.

She and other library staff have consulted with experts from organisations such as Alzheimer’s Otago, Alzheimer’s New Zealand and Age Concern, in an effort to provide resources designed specially for people living with dementia.

“We can't provide that with the building as such, but we've gone about setting up a collection of resources of various types that will hopefully meet those needs, and then the staff have had a lot of training and input into that as well.”

The initiative began about April last year at Ōamaru Library, initially, but there are now resources available across the branches in Omarama, Otematata, Kurow, Hampden and Palmerston.

“So the Ōamaru collection has been out for about six months, but we've just finalised putting the last collection out to the branches . . . which we were very determined to do, because we are Waitaki District Libraries - it's across the district,” Eileen says.


“We've done a lot of consulting, trying to find where to get the resources from, and will it then meet the community needs, because every community is slightly different. 

“Then we've also been sourcing some funding through different grants and various things as well. Rotary have been very generous,” she says.

The process has taken time, as all the work has been on top of library staff’s every day jobs and done in their spare time.

The resources include a variety of books and puzzles, polaroid cameras, and music players.

‘It's good to have a combination of things . . . with dementia, you know, one day they might like a book, but tomorrow they might like a puzzle, so it's all about just having that variety available," Eileen says.

The books and puzzles are specially designed, and although the music players have a retro look, they have music already loaded, and users only need to push a button to make them work.

“It's getting things that are quick and easy, because the carers coming in are highly stressed, and very time-poor. So we've tried to make it as stress-free and simple for them as possible - just come in, see what they like, pick it up and take it home.”

The team have also created kits themed around books with a particular focus, such as cooking or gardening. These provide activities which can be useful for those visiting a family member or friend with dementia.

“It's something that they can share and build new memories with,” she says.

Waitaki District Libraries manager Jenny Bean says dementia can be very isolating for both the person affected, and their carers. The library resources, and even visiting the library, are ways of connecting.

“It's all about connection. It's connecting people to information and to one another and to the wider community, and that really helps people with dementia, you know,” Jenny says.

“Loneliness is the biggest, kind of enemy, of people with dementia and Alzheimer's. They need that connection to the community.

“So that sense of isolation is very overwhelming, so anything we can do to bring back some connection.” 

SInce the dementia-friendly resources have been available, the difference in people has been “remarkable”, both Jenny and Eileen say.


“And it's been remarkable for the staff as well,” Jenny says. “I think we've learned so much as a staff.”

Waitaki District Libraries is leading the region as a dementia-friendly organisation, she says.

“And the feedback that we got from Alzheimer's NZ was that it was one of the best applications they'd ever seen, because we'd really focused on looking at library services systemically.

“So not just about the resources that we provide, but how we provide them - the customer service skills that are wrapped around that.” 

Now that the foundations have been laid, the next steps for the libraries are raising awareness and getting feedback on what else can be done.

The library also have a collection of “twiddlemuffs” they give away, which is a knitted muff to keep people’s hands warm, but with things like buttons and knitted flowers attached, and using a mix of textures for fiddling with.

“Especially this time of year . . . they're good if you're in the car or in an appointment, waiting. Just something that they can fiddle with,” Eileen says.

She and her mother have been knitting the muffs at home, along with Altrusa members and others, while a group at Observatory Village Lifecare knit flowers to be attached.

“The community, they just want to contribute but they don't know how a lot of the time. So something like this . . . It's a bit like cancer I think, everyone has been touched by it somewhere.”