By Lauren Mahakian Contributing writer. Originally published in Palos Verdes Peninsula News on 8/12/2021
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 there are long-term cognitive benefits to being a bookworm!
But, as we get older, and particularly for those facing dementia and memory impairment issues, reading can be an overwhelming task with some unfamiliar obstacles. Someone suffering from dementia, might have issues with eyesight or with the weight of the book, for example.
And, 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, can be especially difficult. Making plot connections and working through heightened language just adds to the frustration and can detract from the enjoyment or benefits 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 aloud also offers great solutions.
For example, if someone has a tough time remembering plot points from long passages, reading aloud 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 book or those requiring better color contrast adjustments.
And, to continue reaping the benefits of reading, it helps to find the right book. Long reads or books with complex storylines, might not be a good fit. And, juvenile books might not be a good solution. Instead, find a book that will “click” with your loved ones interests.
As at your local library for “high interest, easy readability” books. This could include books you may not necessarily think of as “reading books,” such as 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 many of my dementia clients and their families have enjoyed:
- “What the Wind Showed to Me,” “A Dusting of Snow” and “The Sandy Shoreline,” all by Emma Rose Sparrow
- ”The Sunshine on My Face: A Read-Aloud Book for Memory Challenged Adults” by Lydia Burdick and Jane Freeman
- ”Wishing on a Star,” also by Burdick and Freeman
- ”Simple Pleasures for Special Seniors,” a series by Dan Koffman
- ”Blue Sky, White Clouds: A Book for Memory-Challenged Adults,” by Eliezer Sobel
- 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?
Lauren Mahakian is a certified care manager. Check out her free podcast, Unlocking the Doors of Dementia™ with Lauren and Free Support Groups on Zoom.