When Dot Hinman’s husband Gene developed dementia, she struggled as his caregiver. She felt isolated, and didn’t always know how best to help him.
Gene had been a geology professor at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, and the couple were lifelong readers. But as his dementia progressed, he began having trouble with the books he’d always loved.
“He was so frustrated, because he just couldn’t seem to follow the plot in a book. He’d be fine while he was reading, he’d put it down, and then he couldn’t remember it when he picked it back up,” Hinman said. “He loved to read. We both loved the feel of books in our hands.”
She wanted him to be able to keep reading, but the only books she could find that he could follow were for children.
“He was really insulted when I brought home a couple of kids books,” she said. “He was a college professor. It’s just really demeaning to find that the only thing you can read is a little kid’s book. He called them baby books.”
That experience inspired Hinman to make a donation to the library that allowed the purchase of books for a new collection, called Reflections Kits.
“The books are not too long, with larger print and illustrations. The story lines involve lots of sensory experiences rather than linear storylines to keep track of,” librarian Meredith Crawford said.
They are specifically created for adults with dementia, but are designed to look like mainstream books.
“They allow anyone to pick up and read a book that looks similar to any other book, but without the challenges general adult fiction presents,” Crawford said.
The library has five Reflections books, available to check out together as a kit. They focus on the four seasons, as well as one about a visit to the library.
The Reflections collection also includes kits with themed photo and activity cards and DVDs. They are designed to prompt conversations and reminiscing between people with dementia and their caregivers or other friends and family.
For many people with dementia, memories from the past – such as from childhood or young adulthood – often will be easier to recall than more recent events. The kits have themes like “Remembering the 1950s,” “The Homemaker,” “Farm Reminiscence,” “The Handyman,” “The Great Outdoors” and more.
Though her husband died three years ago, Hinman said helping others who find themselves in the same situation she did has become a passion.
“It struck a chord with me,” she said. “I hope this will make it much easier for caregivers to access materials that can be really useful.”
The idea for the kits came when Crawford connected with the Family Caregivers Center at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, where Hinman volunteers. The library was looking for ways to increase access for older patrons, which is part of the library’s strategic plan, and staff and volunteers at the center suggested the Reflections materials.
Center director Kathy Good, who is also director of the Chris and Suzy DeWolf Family Innovation Center for Aging and Dementia at Mercy, said after caring for her husband, Dave, for 12 years while he lived with dementia, she knows the importance of resources like these.
“People living with dementia, especially early-stage dementia, want to be a part of the community and live with meaning and purpose,” she said. “That a person living with dementia can go to the library and find resources appropriate for them – that’s just an awesome thing.”
The kits can be found at the Downtown Library on the second floor, on the first shelf of the book club kit section. They can also be previewed and put on hold in the catalog by searching Reflections Kit. Patrons can reserve them for pickup at any Metro Library Network library, which includes Marion and Hiawatha libraries. Curbside hold pickup is also available.