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6 Ways Reading Keeps Senior Brains Sharp  

Maintaining cognitive health as we age is key to living a fulfilling independent life. Just like weight bearing exercises help keep muscles strong, your brain needs exercise and stimulation, too! Studies confirm that social interaction is vital for avoiding dementia, but did you know that the simple pleasure of reading can protect cognitive function as we age?

A 14-year study published in the journal International Psychogeriatrics found that reading

was protective of cognitive function in later life. Frequent reading activities were associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline for older adults at all levels of education in the long term. Another study published by the journal Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine suggests that adding a social dimension to reading may further increase the benefit, so good ole fashioned book clubs are not only fun, they also help keep our neurons firing.

United Hebrew residents maintain their cognitive edge by going to the library

“The research supports what we at United Hebrew have long known about reading — it’s another way to help our seniors thrive,” explains Deborah King, Director, Recreation and Volunteers at United Hebrew’s assisted living community. “Our residences boast well-stocked libraries and we have increased our inventory of large print books to accommodate the many residents who spend time in the library.

“Interestingly, we have noted that our residents who are aging particularly well typically carry a book with them,” says King. “In fact, two of our sharpest residents, at 100 and 103, read all the time! To encourage both reading and social engagement, we are excited to begin programming both an audio and traditional book club to complement our short story group.”

In United Hebrew’s memory care communities, reading helps residents to express themselves and stimulates recall. “We have daily chronicle readings where the current date and year are listed alongside coinciding events from yesteryear,” says Sallie Carlin, MS, CTRS, Director of Memory Care at United Hebrew. “The residents find this to be a simpler, more pleasant way to read the newspaper. They feel more at ease recounting their memories from years ago.”

UH’s memory care residents also participate in daily group readings from “The Hearthside Book Club.”  The therapeutic program benefits residents’ concentration, participation and fosters reminiscence.

Related Article: How Reminiscing Helps Loved Ones with Alzheimer’s and Dementia  

King says reading offers a wide range of advantages that positively impact older adults’ mental, emotional, and social well-being, including:

1. Cognitive Stimulation

One of the most significant benefits of reading for elderly adults is the stimulation of cognitive functions. Engaging with a book requires concentration, memory, and comprehension skills, which can help keep the mind sharp and active. This cognitive exercise is crucial for slowing down the mental aging process and can even help in delaying the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Regular reading has been associated with a lower rate of cognitive decline, as it keeps the brain engaged and challenges it to form new neural pathways.

2. Stress Reduction

Reading can be an excellent way for the elderly to relax and reduce stress. Immersing oneself in a story allows one to escape from daily worries and enter a different world. This mental break is important for maintaining emotional health, as it can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate, and help in achieving a state of calm. For those in their later years, who may be dealing with various stressors related to health, finance, or lifestyle changes, reading can offer a peaceful respite.

3. Improved Sleep Quality

Many elderly adults struggle with sleep-related issues. Reading before bed can establish a calming bedtime ritual that signals the body to wind down and prepare for sleep. However, it’s important to note that reading from a physical book is more beneficial than reading from a screen, as the blue light from electronic devices can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.

4. Enhanced Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Reading, particularly fiction, allows individuals to understand and connect with different characters and their experiences. This can enhance empathy and emotional intelligence in elderly readers. Understanding diverse perspectives through the lens of different characters can help in nurturing a more empathic view towards others, an important aspect for maintaining healthy social relationships.

5. Lifelong Learning and Knowledge Acquisition

The pursuit of knowledge doesn’t have an age limit. Reading provides an opportunity for elderly adults to continue learning new things, whether it’s about history, science, culture, or any other topic of interest. This not only keeps the mind active but also allows them to stay informed and engaged with the world around them.

6. Social Engagement and Connection

Book clubs and reading groups offer a social outlet for elderly individuals who enjoy reading. These groups provide an opportunity to discuss books, share opinions, and connect with others who have similar interests. This can be particularly beneficial for combating loneliness and fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Great Books for Your Favorite Senior’s Holiday Stocking

From the New York Times Best Seller List to beloved classics, here’s our top 5 picks for your favorite senior’s holiday stocking.

  1. The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man

  1. The Covenant of Water — a stunning and magisterial epic of love, faith, and medicine, set in Kerala, South India, following three generations of a family seeking the answers to a strange secret

  1. The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor

  1. Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old: A Highly Judgmental, Unapologetically Honest Accounting of All the Things Our Elders Are Doing Wrong

  1. Tales from the Thousand and One Nights – the classic tales told by Scheherazade over a thousand and one nights to delay her execution by the vengeful King Shahryar.

For more information about United Hebrew’s Senior Living Campus or to schedule a tour, visit us here.