They say reading is to the mind as exercise is to the body. As a form of mental stimulation, learning, enjoyment, and escape, reading is a rewarding activity. It has several cognitive benefits, including a favorable impact on people with Alzheimer’s disease. It can even help anyone lessen their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future.
Though lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise play a huge role in preventing or limiting the impact of diseases, a study suggests that reading can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and experiencing cognitive decline in older adults.
Learn about the benefits of reading for people with dementia and some recommended books to give them.
Benefits of Reading for People with Dementia
Reading can offer cognitive benefits for any person of all ages, and it proves to be beneficial also for the elderly who develop dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some advantages to it:
Stimulates the mind and helps decrease dementia symptoms
Reading can help to stimulate the brain and keep the mind active. This can help to slow the progression of dementia and may even help to improve cognitive function.
There is evidence that reading can help to reduce the risk of dementia and delay its onset. Several studies have shown that individuals who engage in regular reading activities exhibit a slower rate of cognitive decline. A study found that people who read books had a 32% lower risk of developing dementia than those who rarely read. Similarly, a larger study in 2018 found that people who engage in daily intellectual activities, such as reading, had a significantly lower risk of developing dementia.
Additionally, some anecdotal reports suggest that reading can decrease symptoms among people already diagnosed with dementia. Researchers have observed that participating in reading groups can improve the mood of people with dementia, decrease agitation, and reduce social isolation. Experts also believe that daily reading can help to preserve memory and language, which in turn can slow the progress of dementia. Overall, reading can play an important role in maintaining mental function and memory for people with and without dementia.
Stress can exacerbate dementia symptoms in older adults, but reading a good book can help lessen it. Although no studies have specifically focused on seniors, research suggests that reading can reduce stress in people of all ages. In fact, a 2009 study showed that reading for just 30 minutes can be as effective as practicing yoga in reducing stress. Another study by the University of Sussex found that after just six minutes of reading, a person’s stress levels and heart rate decreased by 68%.
Reading can help individuals take their minds off negative thoughts and worries, providing a mental escape to a different world. Moreover, reading may also enhance the quality of sleep, which is vital in reducing stress and anxiety.
Enhances communication skills
Dementia patients may struggle with communication, making it challenging to interact with their loved ones and caregivers. Reading books can help improve communication skills as patients are encouraged to use gestures and facial expressions while reading aloud. This can foster social interaction and alleviate feelings of isolation and frustration for both the patient and their loved ones.
Promotes social interaction
Reading is often considered a solitary activity, but it can also be social. A senior can bond over a book with their caregiver or with other seniors in a senior home. Reading together provides an opportunity to discuss the book, exchange ideas, and bond over shared interests. This is particularly important for dementia patients as it can help promote social interaction and improve their quality of life.
It also provides an opportunity to discuss feelings and experiences related to the books, which can be particularly beneficial if the books deal with dementia. Reading can also increase empathy, which is crucial for building positive relationships. Seniors reading books that delve into characters’ inner feelings may find connecting with their caregivers and family members easier.
Provides a sense of companionship
Additionally, reading can provide a sense of companionship for dementia patients who may feel lonely and disconnected. Interacting with books, whether through listening to audiobooks or engaging in discussions, can stimulate critical thinking skills and create a sense of connection to the world.
Reading can also help to improve mood and overall well-being. Engaging in enjoyable and familiar activities, such as reading, can help to improve mood and promote a sense of happiness and fulfillment.
How to Encourage a Loved One with Dementia to Read More
One key to keeping the brain healthy is never to stop reading. If your loved one with dementia maintained their ability to read, here are some tips to encourage them to read more to prevent their cognitive decline from worsening:
Spend some time reading while you’re with one another. This doesn’t mean you have to read the same material – though that’s a good option. Rather, if you’re quietly focused on a book and your loved one sees it, they may be encouraged to do the same and find it easier to concentrate on the reading material.
Read aloud to them
Reading aloud to people with dementia can help them focus on understanding the story rather than struggling to concentrate on a page. It still has some of the benefits of reading, such as maintaining focus and attention. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss the book with them.
Give them fidget toys
Your loved one may still be able to read, but sometimes the problem is they lose focus or get easily fatigued. They may quickly quit the book they’re reading because it involves a lot of effort and focus on understanding. Fidget toys may help with this problem, so you may consider giving them a fidget spinner, fidget cube, or a stress ball they can hold while they try to read and retain information. There are many benefits to using fidget toys for people with dementia, such as:
Choose materials wisely
Typical novels may not interest a person with dementia, nor may they keep them focused. For some in advanced stages of dementia, they may not be able to retain information in a single paragraph or sentence. So, ensure that you provide appropriate reading materials that capture their attention and keep them interested.
Experts suggest that the best books for people with dementia have pictures, a clear main topic, and only 10-15 lines of text. Refer to the next section for more recommendations.
Take down notes
It can be frustrating to pick an unfinished book and forget what was happening in the plot where you left it. Seniors with short-term memory loss don’t need to be away from the book for too long to forget what they read! You can help your loved one with this problem by making notes about the plot at the end of each reading session, so they may review the notes before they can continue reading. Although, this plan needs you to be closely present with the person with dementia to keep track of their progress.
Distracting elements in the house can catch your senior’s attention, making them shift focus away from the book. It’s best if you set up a quiet reading nook with good lighting and comfortable seating for them. Lessen the noise and turn off the TV, radio, or music. Eliminating environmental distractions can help them concentrate better on the reading material.
Great Books for People with Dementia
Generally, books that incorporate text and pictures can help readers retain focus longer, which is important for exercising the mind of a person with dementia. But too often, family members turn to children’s books to help their elderly parent with dementia to maintain an interest in reading. Though their intentions are good, books for children may not be appropriate for seniors. Also, books that are labeled as being for dementia patients may be offensive to some dementia patients.
When looking for books that are suitable for seniors with dementia, it’s essential to keep these in mind:
- The books must be easy to read and in large print.
- Choose books with strong visual elements, like lots of photos and illustrations.
- It should have short chapters so the reader can easily follow the story.
- Avoid books with complex plots and multiple characters.
- Choose books in the genre that the patient enjoys.
Books by Emma Rose Sparrow
Emma Rose Sparrow has written a series of books that are specifically created for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. She was an author who redirected he work after both her parents were diagnosed with dementia.
Her books are designed to be easy to read while still using adult language and avoiding childish vocabulary. The text is slightly larger than usual, and the chapters and paragraphs are kept short. To maintain the dignity of the readers, there is no mention that the books are intended for individuals with dementia.
Each chapter includes one or two color photos to provide visual cues, and all the books in the series feature adult main characters that readers can relate to.
Some of her many titles include:
- A Dusting of Snow
- The Sandy Shoreline
- What the Wind Showed to Me
- Down by the Meadow
- The Splendor of Babies
- Autumn’s Display
Books by Jamie Stonebridge
Jamie Stonebridge is an author who writes books in collaboration with people who had a direct and positive experience working with patients and loved ones with dementia. They understand the enjoyment one can gain from the simplicity of everyday life and the calming effect of a satisfying ending. Stonebridge’s books have this one goal: to bring a smile to a person with dementia.
Her books are also designed to be seen as average book, and it does not mention dementia or memory loss, which is important for many readers. There are pictures at the beginning of each chapter, large text, and positive language throughout enhance the reading experience.
Some titles include:
- A Day in the Park
- A Summer Walk
- A Trip to the Lake
- A Visit to the Farm
- A Visit to the Library
- Family Thanksgiving
“A Share-Time Picture Book for Reminiscing and Storytelling” series by Judi Parkinson
Judi Parkinson’s books are designed for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s to aid in reminiscing and storytelling. The book features a collection of nostalgic images and short captions to encourage conversation and memory sharing. It also includes blank pages for the reader to add their own memories and stories. The book aims to provide a relaxing and enjoyable activity for people with dementia and their caregivers or family members to do together.
Titles from this series include:
- Beside the Seaside
- Busy in the Garden
- Gone Fishing
- Moments in Lavender
- Cupcakes in Tea Parties
“I Remember the Seasons” by Brenda C. Poulos
“I Remember the Seasons” is a picture book by Brenda C. Poulos designed to help caregivers connect with a patient or a loved one experiencing Alzheimer’s. The first in a series, the book serves as a way to connect current experiences with pleasant memories from the past. This volume is part of a series that includes “I Remember the Holidays” and “I Remember Bible Stories,” also written by Ms. Poulos.
The book features poetry, short stories, and illustrations that are centered around the four seasons. The language is simple and easy to understand, and the illustrations provide visual cues to help the reader follow along with the text.
“The Sunshine on My Face” by Lydia Burdick
“The Sunshine on My Face” is meant to be read with your loved one as a Two-Lap Book™. The book features delightful illustrations, realistic watercolors, and brief descriptions that focus on common happy experiences, such as enjoying the outdoors or listening to music. While reading this book, you may want to keep your loved one engaged by asking questions to give them more time to look at the photos or spark memories.
Burdick wrote this book while taking care of her mother, who had late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. During this time, Burdick found that reading together helped her connect with her mother. In one instance, Burdick asked her mother to read the sentence “I love to feel the sunshine on my face” and then asked her how the sunshine felt on her face. Her mother replied with “warm,” providing uplifting proof that the story had penetrated her mother’s dementia.
“Blue Sky, White Clouds: A Book For Memory-Challenged Adults” By Eliezer Sobel
“Blue Sky, White Clouds” is a book by Eliezer Sobel designed for memory-challenged adults, particularly those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It features vibrant photographs of nature scenes accompanied by simple and evocative language. The book is intended to serve as a conversation starter, with prompts and questions at the end of each page to encourage engagement and reminiscing.
After spending time with his mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Sobel started writing this book to encourage her to connect with their past experiences and emotions. The author discovered that his mother couldn’t form full sentences or follow a traditional storybook plot, but she still loved to read. It inspired him to make a book that is simple to read for memory-challenged adults. The book also includes an introduction with tips and suggestions for using the book in a therapeutic and engaging way.
Reading may be a challenge for those already suffering from cognitive disorders like dementia because it makes use of short-term memory. It will be a challenge to keep and interpret information, plot developments, and character names. However, reading can still have healing properties, as it may bring back fond memories, help them visualize things, and keep their language intact.
While reading isn’t a cure for dementia, nor is it a treatment, it’s a good practice to do to prevent or delay the onset of the disease. There are great books that can be enjoyable to people with dementia, but you can always place some magazines and newspapers around so your loved one can pick them up and try to read.