Reading and writing can have powerful effects on delaying dementia and improving cognition and memory for seniors. It is never too late to start!
By Dawn Flemming
Mental decline is almost universal for people as they become age. As we grow older, parts of our brains shrink. Blood flow decreases and inflammation goes up which impairs our cognitive health and memories.
Studies have shown that reading and writing can improve memory and possibly help prevent dementia.
A study of 15,000 seniors were studied for a span of five years. None of the patients had dementia at the onset of the study but did so as the study went along. Being Patient, an organization that reports on Alzheimer’s, summarizes the conclusion of the study as follows:
Dementia risk was significantly lower among those who reported daily participation in intellectual activities, like reading books, magazines, and newspapers, as well as playing board games. The benefit was independent of other health problems, lifestyle factors (fruit and vegetable intake, exercise, smoking, etc.), demographics and socioeconomic status, according to researchers.
Other research also shows that reading in old age can reduce memory decline by more than 30%:
Research on the effects of brain-stimulating activities back up the memory-boosting benefits of reading. The 2013 study, published in the journal Neurology, found that life-long readers were better protected against Lewy bodies, amyloid burden, and tangles over the 6-year study. Reading into old age also reduced memory decline by more than 30 percent, compared to other forms of mental activity.
According to research, books with images tend to have the greatest impact for people with dementia.
The authors of the study suggested:
“We discovered that interspersing clear, intriguing photographs reflecting the content of the corresponding page was instrumental in sustaining a reader’s focus,” wrote Dr. Peter S. Dixon and Speech-Language Pathologist Susan Ostrowski in a 2017 issue of iAdvance Senior Care.
The researchers proposed an ideal book format for dementia patients: Large margins, the main topic printed in bold, a photo, and 10-15 lines of text. This configuration resulted in less brain strain amongst the study’s participants which lead to longer reading times.
“The text, photo, and title drew from different areas of the mind and were synergistic in serving to focus and keep the reader’s attention,” Dixon and Ostrowski wrote.
Remember that it is never too late to start reading. Even if it is only a short while a day, make it a habit to do it consistently. Consistency is more important than any single amount of reading you may do in a day.
Dawn Flemming is Director of Business Services at Geriatric In-Home Care in Fresno, California.