Is it time for Libraries in Care Homes?

Time has always been a precious commodity, whether having to cope with daily work routines or the additional pressures felt when taking too much on.  Despite the relatively peaceful settings of UK care homes, here time is an exceptionally precious resource.

Sometimes carers are subject to criticism from independent reports or relatives of residents for not allocating more time to meaningful interaction with those with dementia/Alzheimer's who are in their care.  Although in an ideal world time for activities would be given freely, hours and days are usually eaten up purely with physical care duties.

As it is proven that residents with dementia/Alzheimer's can benefit from meaningful and high quality stimulation surely an odd five minutes here and there can be found?  Unfortunately additional time is often just not made available.  So what is the answer?  Can residents help themselves?  Sometimes, but that is very much dependent on the resources available and the state of their physical or mental health.  What about friends or relatives who are visiting?  They can provide valuable and much needed interaction but they sometimes can benefit from having resources available to help them.

But what can be done to support residents, care workers and visitors and to help make care homes both great places to live, work and visit?  Help may be at hand with the launch of a new and exciting project to investigate the benefits of introducing small mobile library units into dementia/Alzheimer's care facilities.

The project sponsored by the Elise Pilkington Charitable Trust, involves Methodist Homes for the Aged, Innovations in Dementia C.I.C. and Pictures to Share C.I.C.  All are working together to try and improve the environment that exists in many care homes, in which there is a lack of suitable resources make available for those with dementia/Alzheimer's, their carers and visitors to share.

The Elise Pilkington Library Project aims to trial the benefits of putting two small mobile library units containing full sets of Pictures to Share books into each of five MHA care homes across the country.  Designated members of staff from each home are trained as 'reading champions,' to develop the use of the books within their home as well as encourage residents and visitors to use the available resource.

The project is the first of its type to take place in the UK or overseas and although still in its early stages, it is being monitored and evaluated to find out if, and how, the presence of the library units and 'reading champions' changes the day to day activity levels within the homes.  The findings will also influence how improvements can be made in the levels of quality time spent between residents and their care staff or visitors.

The books provided by Pictures to Share are specifically designed for people with dementia/Alzheimer's.  They are illustrated with large, powerful images and supported by a small amount of large print text allowing readers of all ages and interests to relate to them in a number of ways.

The Pictures to Share books are already widely available and proven to improve communication between relatives and carers by facilitating conversations either through the images that tell stories, the colour and beauty of an image or by emotions that arise in the reader when looking at the books.

When an effective and rewarding activity is found, often it can encourage carers - whether visitors or workers - to spend more time with residents in their care.

Pictures to Share books are increasingly being used by care homes and relatives across the UK and Australia and already some of the great benefits from specifically designed and illustrated books are being realised.

Although still in the early stages, the findings of the Elise Pilkington Library Project should provide care homes with the evidence needed to support the development of their own specialist libraries for residents.  So however little time there is in the day, people with dementia/Alzheimer's and their carers will have access to the precious and valuable resources that these specialist books can bring.

The article was featured in the June edition of Caring Times 2010