There’s only one place that people can go for free, is geographically accessible to most people and provides a space where everyone feels comfortable and safe.

The library.

So, when Laura Musgrave approached Dolores Greenwald, Williamson County Public Library System Director, about starting an Alzheimer’s support group at the Williamson County Public Library, it was a perfect fit.

“I was having breakfast with Dolores and mentioned how there were no programs or specific resources where people in Williamson County could be educated about Alzheimer’s, and she suggested having a program at the library. The first class had a waiting list after reservations filled up almost immediately,” Musgrave said.

The first support group kicked off with a program that talked about the 10 warning signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

About 60 people filled the presentation room at the library, and after the program, those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia stood in line to talk with Musgrave, who is a member of the Alzheimer’s Association of Tennessee Mid-South Chapter.

The group seemed relieved to find a place where they were understood and where they could share with others who were facing the same challenges.

“My mom’s disease is progressing,” one woman said. “And I am the only child living here in town to care for her. I think she needs more care than I can provide, but she does not feel she is ready to move into assisted living.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the third-leading cause of death in Williamson County and the fifth-leading cause of death in the state of Tennessee.

The program was held quarterly up until March of 2020. After the COVID-19 pandemic made it no longer possible to meet in person, the program was moved to Zoom in April 2020 and remained successful, giving access to information to those that could login from home.

Kelsey Williams, Alzheimer’s Association manager of programs; Musgrave; Sharon Reily, reference librarian at the Williamson County library; Karin Bailey, Alzheimer’s advocate; and Harlyn Hardin, Alzheimer’s Association director of programs, have been spearheading the program ever since.

“The Williamson County community, and specifically the Williamson County Public Library, have set an example for the state of how invaluable education and support is for families impacted by dementia,” Williams said. “The Alzheimer’s Association knows that to reach and serve more people, we have to meet them where they are, not wait for them to come to us; the library is already such an amazing resource and gathering place, so we feel incredibly fortunate to continue this partnership year after year.”

In January 2021, Reily, Musgrave and Williams had a call with libraries across the state of Tennessee. Many were interested in starting this education in their own communities, using the pilot in Williamson County as a model for how they would launch their programing.

This November, a regional library presentation took place in Columbia, and Williamson County is working with the Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office and Anne Osborne, Assistant Director of the Buffalo River Regional library, to take the program statewide.

Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson is proud of what the county has done to create awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.

“The staff at the library are to be commended for coordinating with the Alzheimer’s Association and providing a safe and caring environment for those who are affected,” he said. “The large number of individuals who enrolled in the resource program demonstrates that our community is not immune. It is rewarding to see that our county has taken the lead and set an example to be used as a model in libraries across the state. I am extremely proud that we can provide an avenue to help families struggling with this disease.”

For more information about this program, contact Reilly at sharon.reily@williamsoncounty-tn.gov or visit the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org.

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