How Reading Can Help Seniors Stay Mentally Sharp

OCTOBER 17TH 2021 Sunland Home Care

As we age, we may need to work smarter at keeping mentally and physically fit. The brain is a muscle, and like any muscle, it weakens from neglect, and it strengthens with use. We have found many examples of fit seniors still running marathons because they keep their bodies strong. We can do the same when we work at keeping our cognitive abilities at top strength.

Studies have repeatedly shown that seniors who use their brain “muscle” and read enjoy benefits far beyond that of just a good story. Reading can be instrumental in slowing down the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Reading Boosts Memory
A study involving 294 seniors found that seniors who engaged in mental stimulation, such as reading, had reduced memory loss compared to non-readers by approximately 32 percent. Reading exercises our brain in turn strengthening our memory capacity, especially for those dealing with short-term memory. Seniors who get a regular mental workout tend to stay focused and alert longer than those non reading counterparts.

Reading Improves Decision-Making Abilities
It is not unusual for seniors to lose some decision-making power with age. We all enjoy the freedom and ability make decisions independently throughout life. Some of our biggest decisions arise as we age and must make choices regarding health and retirement. With so many new and complex factors to deal with, it is easy for seniors to become overwhelmed. Recent studies have found that reading helps seniors who read regularly improve their power for reasoning and the ability to make decisions.

Reading Delays Dementia and Alzheimer’s
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) listed a Hong Kong study that followed 15,000 seniors who did not suffer from dementia at the onset of the study for several years. At the end of the study, seniors who read daily had a much lower risk of dementia. According to the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), research has found that Alzheimer’s is 2.5 times less likely to appear in elderly people who read regularly, while TV was presented as a risk factor.

Reading May Reduce Stress and Lower Anxiety
When one is immersed in a book, it is easy to let go of daily problems. According to a study at Mindlab International, it takes only six minutes for the heart rate to go down and become relaxed when reading. Studies further corroborate that reading can reduce stress by up to 68 percent. Remaining calm and lowering blood pressure can have tremendous benefits on a senior’s overall health and well-being.Readers are also more likely to think before acting, thus greatly reducing impulsive actions. Reading, and its inherent ability to stimulate the mind, can help seniors deal better with unexpected situations.

Reading and Improved Sleep
More than half of seniors over the age of 65 years indicate that they have problems maintaining a sound sleep routine. They sleep less, wake up frequently, and experience less time in the deep restorative stages of sleep. While certain medications can affect sleep quality, seniors often spend time worrying about the changes in their life. According to the Mayo Clinic, a ritual such as reading before bedtime sends a signal to the brain that it is time for sleep. Reading can help seniors drift off naturally and enjoy a better night’s sleep.

Start Reading Any Time
Many seniors may feel that since they have not read much throughout their lives, it is too late to begin at their age. The above-referenced Hong Kong study showed that the benefits of reading are available at any age. A person is never to old start reading. This includes dementia patients with short-term memory problems. These seniors may have difficulty concentrating and staying focused while reading. However, they are actively combating and keeping Alzheimer’s and dementia at bay by reading and exercising their minds. It can be an amazing benefit for seniors who are at the onset of dementia to read, even for as little as 15 minutes a day can provide benefits.

Caregivers Can Assist Those with Dementia While Reading
Seniors with dementia may have difficulty following a plot and can easily become frustrated. They may even be tempted to give up. Caregivers can review the storyline before the senior picks up the book and refresh the senior’s memory. For seniors with mild Alzheimer’s or dementia, reading a short book or story is easier to accomplish and can build the habit of reading daily. In stages of advanced dementia, a book of sayings or proverbs might be a good idea. Familiar adages such as, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” or “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” will be familiar and stimulate the senior’s memory. These simple but valuable sayings can greatly benefit those seniors who suffer from dementia, sparking a light in the brain.

Considerable research has proven that reading plays an important part in slowing down a senior’s mental decline. Even reading for a short period each day is helpful. Consider reading as going to the “mental gym” to give your mind a workout.

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