A Library in Washington Heights Is Going to Be Chicago’s First Dementia-Friendly Library

alt text By Pat Nabong, Reporter, The Real Chi

The newly-renovated Woodson Regional Library got more than just a facelift. After a nine-million dollar restoration, the library is set to become the city’s first dementia-friendly library.

The library’s staff, a group of churches, doctors, organizations and residents have formed a health advisory board that’s responsible for planning the library’s dementia-friendly features. They plan to train staff to engage with people with dementia, organize symposiums for them and their caregivers, and provide dementia-related books and resources,according to Melvin Thompson, a member of the library health advisory board and executive director of Endeleo Institute.

“We are just in the beginning stages of the project and are excited to see what we may be able to do in coming months in terms of our space,” said Lynda Schoop, the library’s director in an email. They declined The Real Chi’s request for an interview and to film inside the library. They recommended that The Real Chi reach out to them in the Spring of 2019 because “it will be some time before we will be fully dementia friendly.”

The library is located in Washington Heights, a predominantly African-American neighborhood on the South Side that has one of the highest populations of adults in their ‘70s, according to Statistical Atlas.

“African-Americans are disproportionately affected by dementia two to one compared to their white counterparts,” said Dr. Darby Morhardt, a clinical social worker and research associate professor at The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Morhardt is part of the library’s health advisory board. “We know from research that African-Americans living with dementia and their families don't get to the doctor as early and they also are very underrepresented in research.”

“We've basically recast Woodson as this health information hub,” said Thompson. “There's a reluctance for us to go to the doctor and so because the library has this welcoming persona, we find that that's a great segway to folks being active participants in improving their own health.”

Although the library’s dementia-friendly aspects are not yet fully operational, Thompson hopes that the library will be a model for other libraries in the city, with its dementia-friendly aspects extending to other public spaces in the community. The library fills a need in the community, said Thompson and Morhardt.

“We're hoping that [the library’s programs] will extend into the community so we're not, we not only have a dementia-friendly library, but a dementia-friendly community where grocery stores, banks, retail stores, you name it, are aware,” said Thompson.