Spotlight on: “Tales & Travel Adventures”

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“Tales & Travel Adventures”
Interactive Literacy Activities for People Living with Dementia

Mary Beth Riedner, B.A., MLS
East Valley Memory Cafe (volunteer)
Sun Lakes, Arizona, USA

When the pandemic hit in March, 2020, all in-person Memory Cafe programming came to a halt. Some Memory Cafes quickly pivoted and started offering virtual versions almost immediately.

I had been bringing my in-person book and reading program, “Tales & Travel Memories” on a monthly basis to two Memory Cafes in Arizona since 2018. When the East Valley Memory Cafe in Sun Lakes switched to a virtual format, I offered to convert my book and reading program into an online version.

“Tales and Travel Adventures”

The program is based on a series of monthly live sessions that have been conducted via Zoom with participants of the East Valley Memory Cafe in Sun Lakes, Arizona since May, 2020.

A whole new concept for the online version needed to be developed as books about the destinations could no longer be shared in a virtual platform. However, I believed that the oral reading portion of the program could be retained with a new twist.

While I am not a photographer, I have taken many pictures on trips I have taken over the past few decades. It occurred to me that I could retain the travel theme by creating a simple narrative that could accompany pictures that I took to simulate the various trips that I had taken. Other literacy activities such as reading poems, singing, and playing word games are incorporated into the programs.

After the live sessions, the PowerPoint slide decks are recorded and converted into YouTube videos. Eleven videos and PowerPoint slide decks are available at the Tales and Travel Memories website. At least one more “trip” will be developed.

These materials are available at no cost for anyone to use or adapt under a Creative Commons license. The PowerPoint presentations can be easily adapted for use by any virtual Memory Cafe. Tips for creating your own similar sessions can be found at the end of this article.

Why Books and Reading?

There are a number of non-pharmacological interventions that improve the quality of life for people with dementia. However, the benefits of using books and reading with this population has been largely ignored.

Research shows that it is a misconception that people with dementia cannot read. A simple invitation to read materials with large font, lots of white space, simple sentence structure and colorful photographs can result in “miracles!”

Not only is self-esteem boosted but memories are evoked and conversation flows. Caregivers are always looking for ways to engage their loved ones in meaningful activities. Handing their partner carefully selected books, or offering appropriate reading materials online, reopens a whole world to them that would otherwise be lost.

Does It Work?

Beyond my own twelve-year experience watching people with dementia reading out loud and enjoying browsing through books, here are a few comments from caregivers and Memory Cafe staff explaining what they see as the benefits of the “Tales & Travel Adventures” programs.

One caregiver reported that she read several of the “Adventures” trips with her mother. The visit to Italy was especially memorable because they recognized familiar sights from their own previous trip to Italy. It became an intergenerational event when her niece joined the shared experience. They found the trip fun and said they learned new and interesting things. Conversation resulted in uplifted feelings and family bonding.

Here is a testimonial from Elaine Poker-Yount of the East Valley Memory Cafe:

“As a facilitator of the support group and an observer of the engagement sessions in our Memory Cafe, I experienced the benefits and joy programs like “Tales and Travels” provided our members. I watched their eyes and entire faces light up as Mary Beth took them to their childhood home or places they vacationed. I marveled as everyone took turns reading aloud and I was amazed at how proficient everyone still was. Because how often do most of us read aloud anymore – perhaps just in church? I see the glow of yesteryear’s memories bring warmth to the hearts and souls of participants. It’s like seeing the effects of a big hug.”

Two incidents from the live Zoom Memory Cafe demonstrate how memories are stimulated and good feelings are generated:

  1. One man talked extensively about making gravy (pasta sauce) after the Italy trip.
  2. A woman rejoiced in seeing places in St. Louis where she had gone to nursing school.


The original Tales & Travel actually began in 2008. As a retired librarian and caregiver for my husband with young onset dementia, I began volunteering at a memory care community near my home in Illinois. The original program was a book and reading program designed to take individuals with dementia on an imaginary trip to another country or a state or region in the United States.

The program was inspired by the Guidelines for Library Services for Persons with Dementia published by the International Federation of Library Associations in 2007. The initial concept was to use oral reading and browsing through non-fiction books to stimulate memories and conversation.

Along with the Activity Director of the facility, we developed this basic agenda for the first 24 “trips”:

  • Greeting each person individually and introducing myself.
  • Showing them individually on a globe or large map, where we were and where our destination was located.
  • Inviting them to take turns reading aloud from a folk tale from the location. Each person got their own copy of the folk tale which had been retyped in large font with generous line spacing.
  • Distributing a similarly formatted sheet with Five Facts about the destination which the participants were invited to take turns reading out loud.
  • Passing around books borrowed from the adult and children’s collections of the local public library for them to browse through individually.
  • Throughout the session, individuals were encouraged to comment on what they were seeing and reading. Memories and conversations flowed easily.

In 2011, I found a wonderful partner in the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Illinois. They eagerly embraced the Tales & Travel concept and began offering monthly programs at a dozen memory care communities in the Elgin area.

Tales and Travel Memories on Memory Cafe Directory


Tales & Travel began to expand nationally after it received a grant from the American Library Association and the Tales and Travel Memories web site was created. The program received the Rosalinde Gilbert Innovations in Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiving Legacy Award in the Creative Expression category in 2014 and a Best Practices recognition as a part of the Library of Congress’ Literacy Awards in 2017.

Expanding Tales & Travel for Memory Cafes

In March, 2018 I brought my in-person “Tales & Travel” program for the first time on a monthly basis to the Tempe, Arizona Memory Cafe. We went on a “trip” to Ireland and I knew it was a success when one of the gentlemen spontaneously got up and started dancing an Irish jig!

In January, 2020, I was invited to begin offering the program once a month at the East Valley Memory Cafe in Sun Lakes. Both of these Memory Cafes offered cognitive engagement activities for the person living with dementia at the same time as an optional support group for caregivers. Both Cafes had a total weekly attendance that often exceeded thirty participants.

As Memory Cafe sessions lasted for a longer time period than the original program, I began adding additional literacy activities to the Tales & Travel agenda. Among them were:

  • Choral reading of poetry from the location or by famous poets from the region. Also successful was “call and response” reading, when a leader reads a line and the participants repeat it.
  • Singing songs associated with the destination. Lyrics were typed up in large font and included all the verses, not just the chorus. I played the melodies on my flute to remind everyone of the tune. It was unique, but it worked.
  • Distributing sophisticated free coloring pages about the destination that had been located on the Web. Even the men in the program became engrossed in coloring these images with the colored pencils that were provided.

Tips for Creating Similar Virtual Programs

Tales & Travel Adventures was designed as a model for other librarians and Memory Cafe staff to freely use or adapt for their own communities. Others are also urged to create similar programs that incorporate literacy activities for their own attendees.

While I will continue to create programs until I run out of travel experiences, the Tales & Travel Adventures model can be easily replicated by almost anyone on nearly any topic. The technology I use is very basic.

Photos are inserted into a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation along with text boxes that feature simple narration using a large font. The narration is recorded using the Slide Show feature and the file is saved as an MP4, which turns it into a video. The video can then be uploaded to YouTube. My only cost was purchasing the PowerPoint software.

I would recommend that the narration be written in the present tense to make it a more immersive experience. Questions help stimulate engagement and conversation. A little humor is appreciated. The dignity of this adult audience must always be respected.

Please have fun creating your own programs to enhance the quality of life for those living with dementia!

Sample Videos

Tales & Travel Adventures… Let’s Visit London!

Tales & Travel Adventures… Let’s Visit the Caribbean!

Mary Beth Riedner

Mary Beth Riedner on Memory Cafe Directory

Mary Beth Riedner

Mary Beth resigned from her position as University Librarian for Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL in 2008 to care for her husband with a young-onset dementia. She is the developer of the award-winning Tales & Travel book and reading program designed for those living with dementia. In recent years, the program has been adapted for memory cafes, both in-person and virtual.

For the past eight years, she has served on the leadership team of the American Library Association’s Interest Group for Library Services for Dementia/Alzheimer’s. She has presented at numerous professional conferences including the American Library Association and the American Society on Aging.

She is involved with the national Dementia Friendly America initiative as well as dementia friendly efforts emerging in Illinois and Arizona. She is the author of several journal articles as well as chapters on the Tales & Travel program in two books: The Relevant Library, published in 2018, and On the Go with Senior Services, published in 2020.

Contact Mary Beth



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