Many have replaced books with screens, but the loss of books has been the loss of an activity that could potentially save our brain health.
By Dawn Flemming
One of the downsides of the technological revolution and the domination of screens in people’s lives is that reading physical books has taken a back seat in the lives of many. Many people spend their pass times watching videos on Youtube or browsing social media. As people age, their cognitive health tends to deteriorate and not only do screens not help, but they can also contribute to cognitive decline as demonstrated in one study.
Reading is demonstrably a healthy alternative during leisure time. For people of all ages, but especially seniors, reading has been shown to have very positive effects on brain and cognitive health. In this article, we will outline three benefits that reading can have on the cognitive health of the elderly.
Reading can have a dramatic effect on stress reduction and this has been shown scientifically:
A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. It works better and faster than other relaxation methods, such as listening to music or drinking a hot cup of tea. This is because your mind is invited into a literary world that is free from the stressors that plague your daily life.
A 68% reduction in stress is a lot. This is important for seniors because stress has been associated with many illnesses that plague them, including autoimmune disorders, chronic inflammation and chronic pain. Reducing stress through reading can therefore be good for immune health.
Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Reading and other cognitive activities have been found to protect or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. A recent study in the academic journal Neurology concluded the following after studying the brains of 294 elderly men and women:
After they died, at an average age of 89, their brains were examined at autopsy for evidence of the physical signs of dementia, including the brain plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers found that people who participated in mentally challenging activities most often, both early and late in life, had a slower rate of decline in memory compared to those who did not engage in such activities. Even when people had plaques and tangles and other signs of damage to their brains, mental stimulation seemed to help protect memory and thinking skills, accounting for about 14 percent of the difference in decline beyond what would be expected.
“Based on this, we shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents,” said Dr. Wilson.
As we age, our memories are no longer what they were before. This is especially true for the elderly. However, reading has been shown to improve short-term and long-term memory by exercising the brain. How does this work? Here’s an interesting passage from oprah.com:
Just like muscles, the brain benefits from a good workout. And reading is more neurobiologically demanding than processing images or speech. As you're absorbing, say, this article, "parts of the brain that have evolved for other functions—such as vision, language, and associative learning—connect in a specific neural circuit for reading, which is very challenging," says Ken Pugh, PhD, president and director of research of Haskins
Laboratories, which is devoted to the science of language and affiliated with Yale. "A sentence is shorthand for a lot of information that must be inferred by the brain." In general, your intelligence is called to action, as is greater concentration. "We are forced to construct, to produce narrative, to imagine," says Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. "Typically, when you read, you have more time to think. Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight. By and large, with oral language—when you watch a film or listen to a tape—you don't press pause."
When you want to have some leisure time, it would be a good idea to switch your screen for a physical book.
Dawn Flemming is Director of Business Services at Geriatric In-Home Care in Fresno, California.