A dementia diagnosis can be a traumatic and disorientating experience for everyone involved, leaving people feeling lonely and excluded from their communities and putting enormous strain on family and carers.

There’s no quick and easy fix but public libraries and schemes such as Reading Well Books on Prescription for dementia can be part of the solution. They are providing real help and support for people with dementia and their carers.

Reading Well Books on Prescription for dementia makes quality assured, recommended reading freely available in a safe and trusted community space.

Books can be recommended by dementia care professionals before, during or after diagnosis and to support family and carers. But they’re also available for anyone to borrow from their local library, reaching people who may be worrying about symptoms or wanting to find out more.

The scheme works within clinical and dementia strategy guidance, providing information and advice to help people live well with the condition, practical support for carers and the powerful insights of personal stories. So it’s more than just a booklist: it’s helping people to help themselves and others, de-stigmatising the condition and building dementia awareness.

There is clearly an enormous need for support of this kind. National loans of Reading Well Books on Prescription dementia titles have increased almost 300% since the launch of the scheme in January with books such as the novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova, the children’s story book Grandma by Jessica Shepherd and the information book First Steps to Living with Dementia by Simon Atkins proving particularly popular.

The Power of Libraries

It’s not just about the power of the books on the Reading Well Books on Prescription for dementia list; it’s also about the power of the public library and the role it plays in the health and wellbeing of the local community. Public libraries support some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, making them feel safe and included. They reach the people who most need help but are sometimes difficult to reach through other agencies.

There’s an excellent piece of research by academic Liz Brewster that shows that people see the public library as a therapeutic landscape – a space that is familiar and welcoming, comforting, calming and empowering.[1]

And once here to borrow a book, people with dementia also have the opportunity to participate in a wide range of other library services, giving them the opportunity to remain active, engaged and involved in the local community, such as reminiscence resources, reading groups, support groups, workshops and author events.

The Value of the Scheme

Reading Well Books on Prescription is funded nationally by Arts Council England and locally by library services, often working with health partners such as Public Health. It costs just £1.00 a person to deliver.

Arts Council England have just published some interesting research into the economic value of the health and wellbeing benefits of public libraries. It found that library use had a positive impact on health to the extent that, across England, it saves the NHS somewhere in the region £27.5 million. 

But the impact on people’s lives is why we do what we do. The Reading Agency is passionate about the power of reading to make a difference to people’s health, wellbeing and quality of life and believe that libraries play a crucial part in the equation with their unique offer as therapeutic spaces and community health hubs.

[1] The Public Library as a Therapeutic Landscape: A Qualitative Case Study by Liz Brewster in Health and Place, 26 (2014), 94-99.