Waterloo woman makes picture books for adults with dementia, Alzheimer's

Rachel Thompson started publishing picture books for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease when she realized there was no age-appropriate literature tailored to her grandmother's reading abilities.

'It's not that she can't read, but more that what we're giving her to read isn't working for her.'

Rachel Thompson, reading with her grandmother, who is the inspiration for her business Marlena Books. (Rachel Thompson)

When Rachel Thompson's grandmother read the front page headline on the local newspaper one morning, the family was shocked – not because of what the headline said, but because her grandmother knew what it said.

"We all thought that she could no longer read, because she just wasn't reading in the way that she was reading before," Thompson said, adding her grandmother had been struggling with dementia for a number of years.

"I started thinking that perhaps it's not that she can't read, but more that what we're giving her to read isn't working for her."

Original content, local authors

That realization became the impetus for a university research project, a pitch to join St. Paul's GreenHouse idea incubator, and, finally, a full-fledged business.

Thompson is now the owner and operator of Marlena Books, a publisher of adult picture books for people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

"They're all original content, actually written by local authors here in K-W, and the main feature is age-appropriate content," she said.

"For example, we have a hockey story, we have a story about people building a railroad in the London area, we have a romance story for the ladies. We're really trying to see what their interests are and build our stories off of that."

A sample of what a Marlena Books looks like when you open the cover and flip through the pages. (Rachel Thompson)

Illustrations from art therapy programs

Not only is the content age appropriate, but the language is modified and the pages are laid out to help the reader navigate the story.

In a Marlena Book, margins are narrow, to help readers "catch" the text quickly when they turn onto a new page. 

The text only fills about one third of the page and there is plenty of space between words, to prevent readers from being overwhelmed.

The book is also filled with prompts to guide readers through the book. For example, arrows on right side pages instruct readers to turn the page.

"And all of our images are actually made by individuals in art therapy programs who have dementia," Thompson said.

"So it's a really cool opportunity for them to contribute back to their community, and then also for readers to feel inspired."

In its first year, Marlena Books published five titles, which were sold to local long term care homes. In 2017, Thompson said the company will publish an additional five titles and plans to launch an online store in March.

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