For so many people, reading is a way to keep the brain agile, but it is also an exciting, entertaining way to engage with the world around us. Not only are books full of thrilling stories and intriguing information, but just the act of reading can be extremely beneficial to brain health.
In addition to mood improvement and the calming effects of enjoying a good book, studies show that there are long-term cognitive benefits to being a bookworm!
Reading for those living with dementia or memory loss:
As we get older, and particularly for those facing dementia and memory impairment issues, reading itself can be an overwhelming task with some unfamiliar obstacles. Eyesight clarity and/or the weight of the book are a few of many of these obstacles.
In addition, for those with short-term memory loss, following the course of a story, especially one meant to be read over an extended period of time or in multiple sessions, is a limitation many dementia patients face. Making plot connections and working through heightened language just adds to the difficulty or frustration and detracts from the enjoyment or benefits that reading is meant to offer.
Although these obstacles may sound daunting, books can still be a major source of joy, engagement and positive mental exercise for those experiencing dementia. Reading out loud also offers great solutions. For example, if someone has a tough time remembering plot points from long passages they have read, reading out loud may trigger sensory understanding on multiple levels — visually, auditorily and kinesthetically.
The use of iPads or Kindles may also offer benefits to those having difficulty with the weight of a book or those requiring better color contrast adjustments.
Recommended reading material for those experiencing dementia or memory loss:
Reaping the benefits of reading could be highly influenced by providing the proper resources. Although following complex storylines or lengthy books may not be appropriate for many seniors, resorting to a juvenile book is also not a solution; instead, it is a matter of finding books that will “click” with each person’s interests.
If you are looking for a variety of options, check out your local library and/or ask for “high interest, easy readability” books. This could include books you may not necessarily think of as “reading books,” like cookbooks, travel books about familiar places, or books with photos and descriptions of famous bands from the person’s youth.
Reading is all about building connections in the brain, so get creative. Eat lunch while reading the meal’s recipe together. Listen to music while reading about the musicians who performed it. Read to your loved one while they enjoy the pictures and texture of the pages.
Here is a list of books I have researched and compiled for adults with dementia in mind that many of my clients and families have enjoyed:
- "What the Wind Showed to Me," Emma Rose Sparrow
- "A Dusting of Snow," Emma Rose Sparrow
- "The Sandy Shoreline," Emma Rose Sparrow
- "The Sunshine on My Face: A Read-Aloud Book for Memory Challenged Adults," Lydia Burdick and Jane Freeman
- "Simple Pleasures for Special Seniors" (series), Dan Koffman
- "Blue Sky, White Clouds: A Book for Memory-Challenged Adults," Eliezer Sobel
- "Wishing on a Star," Lydia Burdick and Jane Freeman
Many more resources can be found through the Alzheimer’s Association at Alz.org.
Just being around familiar books or magazines can feel good and get the mind moving. Reading is a lifelong adventure, no matter what it looks like at different stages. And who doesn’t love running their fingers up and down the words, character names or places in an old favorite book?
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