Stimulating Minds: How Libraries Are Serving the Aging Population and Mental Health Needs

Technology | May 08, 2018

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Learn how libraries across the United States can support Older Americans Month and Mental Health Month by offering activities that enrich physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

In the United States, the 65 and over population is expected to more than double by 2060 and that group's share of the total population will rise from 15 to 25 percent in that time. By 2050, it’s projected that nearly 14 million Americans will be living with Alzheimer's. Mental health statistics are just as staggering. In the United States, 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year.

In the United States, Older Americans Month (sponsored by the Administration on Aging) is observed in May. Older Americans Month promotes awareness of the growing aging population and emphasizes that older adults are never too old to participate in activities that enrich their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. May is also Mental Health Month in the U.S, sponsored by Mental Health America. The goal is to raise awareness, encourage screenings, and serve as a reminder that mental health is something everyone should be concerned about. 

As the center of their communities, libraries can help. Librarians can, and have, developed innovative programming and increased staff training to meet the needs of these growing populations.

Fidget Spinners Evolve into Fidget Quilts

Have you heard of fidget spinners? They’re small, inexpensive toys designed to relieve stress. Librarians have put a twist on this idea by providing “fidget quilts” to serve their older patrons, specifically those with Alzheimer’s and/or Dementia. A fidget quilt is  a small quilt with zippers, buttons, and other tactile items that can be manipulated to reduce stress and tension. The St. Charles Public Library in Illinois is one of a few libraries recently featured in American Libraries for their work with fidget quilts. The library hosts sponsored events that bring patrons together to create the quilts. Hadi Finerty, senior manager of education and outreach at the Joliet, Illinois, chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, says fidget quilts provide needed distraction, especially during “sundowning.” “A lot of times when the sun goes down, [people with dementia will] get more anxious and start to ask, ‘When am I going home? When am I going home?’” When this happens, she says, “fidget quilts redirect them to something different.”

There are things that we can do to help people who may be experiencing some type of mental health issues when they’re in here. Now we don’t feel so helpless in those situations, and we have some tools. - Jenci Spradlin, Librarian

First Aid for Mental Health

Many librarians are trained in “physical first aid” (addressing injuries to one’s body) or CPR, but few are trained in mental first aid. More and more, libraries are contracting with organizations such as Mental Health First Aid USA to provide their staff with mental health first aid training and in some cases, to become trainers themselves. According to American Libraries, Staff at the Jackson-Madison County Public Library in Tennessee received mental health first aid training and Jackson-Madison’s Adult Services Librarian Jenci Spradlin says librarians now feel better equipped to meet the needs of their patrons. “There are things that we can do to help people who may be experiencing some type of mental health issues when they’re in here. Now we don’t feel so helpless in those situations, and we have some tools.”

Engaging Digital Resources for a Healthy Mind

Flipster, EBSCO’s digital magazine platform, offers magazines and adult coloring books targeting the needs of the aging populationand addressing mental health needs. AARP: The Magazine and AARP Bulletin are must-reads for the older population. Magazines such as Scientific American Mind help readers of all ages learn to enhance their own mental functioning with entertaining brainteasers, illusions and puzzles in each issue. General health magazines including Prevention and Consumer Reports on Health are also great sources of information for those looking to maintain their mental health and well-being or for family members looking for resources as they care for loved ones.

In addition, Flipster offers a selection of more than 150 adult coloring books on a wide variety of topics, including one specifically devoted to Alzheimer’s — Color Your Mind: A Coloring Book for Those with Alzheimer's and the People Who Love Them. EBSCO’s public library database, Consumer Health Complete™, provides articles on a variety of health-related topics. The articles are written for the layperson and can provide a great starting point to research.

Learn More About Flipster

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