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What are the health benefits of reading in older age?

17th May 2019

Diving into the pages of a new book can transport you to a variety of new places. Whether you’re flicking through the story of some of your favourite characters or delving deep into something new, there is a book for everyone. Although reading is a fantastic way to spend time, particularly if you’re less mobile than you once were and perhaps need to use a home stairlift, it also comes with a host of health benefits which can prove extremely advantageous in older age.

We spoke to Annabel from CountryWives, one of the best online magazines for older women, on why she thinks reading is important for people in older age: “Reading books is so stimulating whether fiction or biography. It keeps the mind alert and is a good aid for memory. It is also a great conversation, chatting about books you have read.”


Mental benefits

As you grow older, your memory may not be what it once was. However, studies have shown that engaging in reading can reduce symptoms of memory decline, helping you to retain your short-term memory for longer. Although apps on smartphones can help you to exercise your mental agility, reading is a fantastic alternative. On the Phillip’s Lifeline website, it is advised that: “regular mental workouts through reading can strengthen the brain’s neural network, helping your mind become more receptive to learning and memory retention", with reading a perfect example of this.

If you’re spending more time at home, you may begin to feel lonely, especially if you’re finding it hard to socialise. For many older people, this can be disheartening and stressful. Not only can reading prove a great distraction from this, your mind is put at ease as you slip into another world, but options such as book clubs can provide safe environments for you to make new friends. Social interaction can allow you to establish new relationships, helping to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

According to a study by Louis Cozolino, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University, “as we grow older, what’s lost in quick recall and short-term memory is balanced by an ability to reflect and to hold multiple perspectives”. As older people familiarise themselves with a character, they begin to empathise with their situation. This can be incredibly beneficial as it allows relationships in their personal lives to become stronger, something which is essential to the happiness of older people.

Throughout the early years of your life, you’re required to read in order to learn new things; from instruction manuals to historical texts, there is always something new to be discovered. Not only does reading of this type make you more knowledgeable, but this bank of information helps your cognition to improve. Focusing on these texts improves your concentration, which is essential in fighting conditions such as dementia. Simply dedicating just 15-20 minutes each day to focus on reading can help older people to become more productive whilst stimulating their minds.


Reading Recommendations

Annabel shared her thoughts as to what resources she would recommend for people to look at to aid with reading: “As you get older eyesight can deteriorate so either invest in a Serious Reader Light which, because of its technology, will make reading books so much easier and because there is no eye strain your eyes do not get so tired.  I would also recommend as listening to books is such an incredible aid to those who cannot read books due to bad eyesight. Often the authors read their own books and sometimes there are additional interviews at the end of the book. I have recently enjoyed the autobiographies of both Michelle Obama and Joe Biden for these very reasons.”

Audiobooks can be a fantastic alternative for those who may have difficulty reading books, whether that is due to poor eyesight or arthritis in their fingers. They allow older people to access new stories and enjoy old tales from the comfort of their homes without straining their eyes. Additionally, e-readers such as a Kindle with their large screens are easier to hold and have bigger words on the screen, making reading simpler.

“I would also recommend joining an online book club and shop such as The Willoughby Book Club or Mr. B’s Emporium both of which, through the reader's answers to a questionnaire, will find books that may be of interest”, shares Annabel. “This is helpful when family or friends want to buy a present of a book for the reader. I found my elderly mother wanted to read books from her youth. Both of these bookshops helped me identify books that she would enjoy -some of which she had forgotten about. It was a lovely trip down memory lane.”

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.